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CCCT with Jeff Zbikowski, AIA/Principal with JZA Architecture

CCCT with Jeff Zbikowski, AIA/Principal with JZA Architecture

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CCCT with Jeff Zbikowski, AIA/Principal with JZA Architecture Video


CCCT sat down with Jeff Zbikowski is the founder and Principal of JZA Architecture, a Los Angeles-based architecture and design firm specializing in the residential sector. With over 10 years in the industry, Jeff leads the firm with a high design and business-focused approach.

A Seattle native, Jeff attended college at Washington University in St. Louis where he majored in Architecture and Economics. Upon moving to Los Angeles in 2010, he attended graduate school at the University of Southern California where he studied Architecture and Urban Development. Jeff’s previous experience includes five years at Killefer Flammang Architects in Santa Monica, where he specialized in market rate and affordable housing.

In 2017, he founded Jeff Zbikowski Architecture to expand his expertise further into the affordable housing market. Leveraging his multifaceted education, work experience and in-depth knowledge of real estate and development regulations and policies, Jeff provides high-level, developer-driven service to each client. JZA Architecture is a multidisciplinary, Los Angeles-based architecture and design firm that provides thoughtful and creative design solutions through a developer-driven lens to their clients.

Enjoy the conversation.


#architecture #multifamily #studenthousing #planning #designfirm #multidisciplinary #developer


Hey there, Commercial Construction Coffee Talk fans, and thanks for chiming in. My name’s David Corson, I’m your host. I’m also the publisher and editor of Commercial Construction and Renovation magazine. This is what it used to look like. We’re digital now but, anyway, this is from September October 2018, Walter Fisher, VP of Design and Development, Cooper Hawks Winery. This was a really good looking issue, 164 pages, lots of stuff in there, and oh, let’s see what I was doing. Oh, you know what, I have a picture of this boat. I went to the University of Denver and they sponsored a boat with these, I think they were Navy Seals, anyway, they were rowing across the ocean and they made it, so good for them, but anyway, it was a really good article, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat Across the Atlantic Ocean.” Good for them and it was for a good cause, but anyway, it’s nice holding the magazine, but we went digital August of 2021, had White Castle my last issue that we printed and I haven’t looked back since. Don’t miss the printer, don’t miss the post office, don’t miss any of that stuff. Now we have a couple of million people a month on our website consuming content, and thank you all for visiting our site, we really appreciate it. And without further ado, let’s get this episode rocking and rolling.

So today, I have a gentleman that’s with an architecture firm out in LA, out on the west coast. His name is Jeff Zabowski. Hopefully, I pronounced that right, and he’s with JZA, a leading architectural firm in the commercial sector. So Jeff, say hello to our audience out there on Commercial Construction Coffee Talk. “Hello, everyone. Thank you for having me.” Hey, pleasure, we really appreciate you finding time in your busy schedule, especially here, you know, we’re getting ready for the Thanksgiving holiday week, and everybody’s trying to get their stores finished and last-minute things before Black Friday shopping and all that good stuff as we start the holiday season. And before you know it, you got Thanksgiving next week, Hanukkah, Christmas, I’ll throw Festivus out there from Jerry Seinfeld for those of you who ever laughed about that when you saw it if you’re old enough, and then you got New Year’s and this year’s over. What a year 2023 has been. So, 2024, it’s going to be awesome too. Never a dull moment. I mean, I’m drained every day, you know, what goes on and just trying to take care of business and take things off my D-O list while the world’s doing all sorts of things and then catch a hopefully catch a couple Z’s before I do it all again the next day with a positive mindset, of course.

So before we start the episode, though, I do have a sponsor message that I have to plug. Give us a second and enjoy the video, and we’ll be back with you after the video. Enjoy, and our sponsor’s name is the Contractor Consultants. Enjoy the video.

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Hey everybody, welcome back to Commercial Construction Coffee Talk. Thanks for enjoying the video from the Contractor Consultants. They’re a great group and hopefully, they’ll be able to help you. So make sure that you text the number that I listed in the video, and we’ll see what happens.

So, Jeff, the way this is going to work is, you’re going to, we’re going to do our episode in three parts. You’ll tell your story, where you grew up, kids, sisters, brothers, played sports, where you went to school, and then how you ended up at JZA. Then we’ll talk about the last three years of the roller coaster, even though we’re out of the tunnel, there’s still little bumps and potholes that we’re all going through, and any cool projects that you have coming up in the pipeline or ones that you just completed that our audience out there on the web would like to know about. And then you’re going to leave one positive thought or phrase with our listeners. So, with that said, the floor is yours. Tell us your story.

All right, well, first of all, thank you for having me, it’s a pleasure to be here. Yeah, so yeah, my name is Jeff Zabowski. I am an architect in Los Angeles and the principal and founder of Jeff Zabowski Architecture, or you can call it JZA. I suppose you could start my story back in elementary school. I used to love to draw, still do, with draw any various items, cars, trucks, inventions for solving everyday silly problems. I think my favorite invention was a lawn mower that would also feed your dog. Very fantastical ideas that had no real application in real life, but I think it goes to show that I was a creative thinker and always thinking outside the box. At the time, I was also a huge baseball fan. I grew up in Seattle, Washington, a small town outside called Woodinville, it’s about 20 minutes outside the city. Seattle Mariners in the mid-90s were a pretty fantastical team. Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, A-Rod, Edgar Martinez, I mean, four hall of famers on one baseball team that really never went anywhere, but it really inspired a love of sports for me. So when I was drawing, I was also drawing floor plans from a very young age. Didn’t think anything of it at the time, but in those floor plans, I had memorabilia rooms. I was such a big fan, my future house was going to have some form of sports memorabilia, and I needed a room to dedicate it to. I took this creativity through high school, where I was very fortunate to go to a pretty small private high school, where I was a good student but always kind of a distraction in the classroom because I was never really challenged. So I was fortunate to be in this small school where we had a lot of focus from teachers. I think I would not be where I am today had it not been for that small classroom sizes and extra focus that I did receive. At this school, we had some pretty specialized elective classes, one of which is actually an architectural drafting class. So I took that my sophomore year, loved it, you know, we Designed a house, drew floor plans, built a model, and learned just basic drafting techniques. I liked it so much I actually took it the following year, and my teacher, it’s not something you really do, came and asked why I wanted to do it. I just loved learning about it, and so she said, this year, you’re not going to take the class, you’re going to teach it. She kind of forced me from an early age to learn about teaching those principles now that I had learned about them. I got a little taste of some leadership qualities through that process as well. I was always very mathematical; math was always very easy to me. So I kind of put two and two together at a relatively young age, thinking that a natural fit for me would be blending design and math together, which to me was architecture. Through the process, I was senior class president, captain of the soccer team, so I had some other leadership qualities to me. I went to Washington University in St. Louis. They had a good undergraduate architecture program at the time. Very ironic of me, living in Washington State, going to Washington University in St. Louis. I had a lot of questions. I’m very familiar, actually one of my classmates went to Washington in St. Louis, so I’m very familiar. It was a great experience for me, and I dove right into the architecture side and was very taken aback by how different it was than I anticipated. The first year was not really architecture; it was more kind of just design in general. So, we were doing kind of industrial design, learning software a little bit, but mostly hand sketching and things of that nature. I also felt pretty early on that I wanted to continue also learning more about the science side of architecture and also had a bit of a business acumen to me. So, I did enlist in the business school and double majored with economics. I always kind of thought that business architects were poor businessmen, businessmen were poor architects, so I wanted to marry those two together in my future, being entrepreneurial from a young age. I wanted to have my own business, be my own boss, and that was always the goal I had from a pretty young age. Started school in 2006, graduated in 2010. That was pretty much the bottom of the recession. 2008 was pretty bad, 2009 made it worse, and in 2010, I wasn’t getting a job. So, I made the business decision of reinvesting in myself and going straight to grad school, where I traveled back to where I am now, Los Angeles, went to the University of Southern California, Go Trojans. USC was a little bit more technical, a little bit more understanding and teaching of structural systems and the design of techniques that go into architecture. I found in undergrad and somewhat in grad school that architecture is more design than it is architecture, where thinking outside the box, the craziest, most fantastical idea is the best one, and you need to take that and develop it. That’s what they teach you in architecture school. They don’t really reel it back in and give you any understanding of practicality, feasibility, constructibility, which is pretty important in actually realizing projects from a concept. I appreciated about USC is they kind of reeled it in a little bit and gave me a little bit more understanding of those technical skills, which I think came to serve me well later on in my career. Throughout that process, my second-year thesis project was a redesign of the LA Memorial Coliseum, where the USC Trojans play football. So being a big sports fan, as I alluded to earlier, that was the coolest project that I could possibly be doing, a little bit of historic renovation of a resource at both the state and federal level, and breathing life into it again.

Coming out of school in 2012, I was graciously hired by a firm called Killefer Flammang Architects, KFA, a small family-owned business, about 25 people at the time, with some really amazing leaders. You really felt like family working for this firm, and essentially everything I learned in the five years working for this one firm, I took and turned it into my own flavor of architecture and used it as the grounds upon which I built my own firm. I really stood on the shoulders of giants in establishing my own firm and am entirely thankful for the experience I had there because the two leaders there, they really groom leaders. From day one, they threw me in the deep end, sink or swim kind of mentality. It was a small firm at the time, and coming out of school as an architect, you usually are fed the smaller projects and the small tasks to see if you are any good. So I was fortunate to go to a small firm where they kind of give you more opportunity and license to design and explore. Had I gone to one of the larger firms, I would be doing bathroom details for two or three years before they gave me any trust in doing anything of substance. So pretty early on, I was doing concept design, entitlement work on some really interesting projects, probably about 500 units of housing. So sorry, we did multifamily housing. So four or five projects in the 100-unit range was kind of where I was put within the firm. But about a year in, I worked on this really amazing project in the valley, that’s north of Los Angeles, North Los Angeles proper, where it was a 24-acre campus where they used to print the LA Times. The site was purchased by one of the world’s largest toy companies. The central building was a print facility for the LA Times, about 255,000 square feet. We purposed that into the design headquarters and corporate headquarters for this toy company, and around it, which was just a sea of parking at the time, we entitled and permitted four apartment buildings, 660 units. There were climbing gyms, pools, parking garages, retail components, a very involved project, and also involved on the entitlement front. Residential uses weren’t allowed on site, so we actually went through a conditional use permit to allow for the residential use. It was a two-year entitlement and another two years of permitting. I worked on one of the four buildings that was new construction and took it through permit completion. That one was 188 units with ground floor retail, so still a pretty substantial building, but that was just one of the four, so it kind of gives you a sense of scale of what that project really was like. We started that in 2013; the last two buildings are being built right now, so it’s a long involved process. I really valued building and designing fast at this firm, and especially on this project. Once we had obtained the permits, I actually decided to leave this firm. The reason being is, you know, I’d been there for five years. I felt that I had Picked up, you know, a number of the ideas and concepts within the entitlement world and concept design. I was very wrong about that, but what I did learn is, you don’t know what you don’t know. I left for a small boutique design firm where I was working on the complete opposite scale of project. My first two projects were 6,000 and 7,000 square foot custom homes on the hill in Lake Tahoe and on the water in Lake Tahoe and on the hill in Aspen. These were $3,000 square foot builds, you know, $25 million houses. So, I went from designing a 24-acre campus in two weeks to designing the great room ceiling in two weeks. So, varying scales and varying attention to detail were two things I really learned from these two processes. Through the process of designing these ultra high-end single-family homes, I was like, this is for me, this is definitely what I want to do. And through a bit of networking, I got my first client, which I was moonlighting at the time, and it was just one house, and it wasn’t ultra-luxury, it was 2,200 square feet in the Palms neighborhood of Los Angeles, and I quit my job. So, I left with one project on an hourly basis, and I thought that I was a reasonably intelligent person that could figure it out. Throughout the process, I was working hourly for another architect that was helping me keep the lights on until my business got established, and through a couple of mutual friends, I got hooked up with a developer that was doing a lot of student housing work around USC.

To put it in context, USC is a very large university, and it’s surrounded by historically zoned properties, many of which were developed in the late 1800s, early 1900s, Victorian, very ornate, early Craftsman, beautiful boned structures that for the most part have been in disrepair for nearly a century now. So, this particular developer was buying some of these houses and renovating them, building two or three units in the back, a lot of ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units), and so I became very well versed in historic renovation work, which is very complex. You don’t know what you have until you open it up, and also there’s a lot of entitlement and permitting hoops you have to jump through with community engagements on these types of projects. In Los Angeles, the design review boards have a lot of say in these types of projects, so I learned how to present projects and how to speak with the community about how we were revitalizing and reinvigorating these old buildings that at one point were very beautiful, and we’re trying to restore them in that fashion. Through the process, I also learned a lot about ADUs, which really became a stepping stone for me. ADUs were popularized in maybe 2017 in the state of California, and more importantly, in 2019, really expanded with a bit of legislation from Sacramento, allowing you to convert spaces in multifamily buildings to ADUs up to 25% of the unit count. So, in a 100-unit apartment building, you would be able to convert all of the parking to ADUs and build 25 units. I got into this pretty early on before the law even came into effect, and when it did, on January 1, I submitted three building permit applications doing just that, converting spaces on a wide scale within existing apartments, and quickly made a name for myself doing so. I would get calls from random people saying I had worked with their cousin or their brother-in-law on some project and really became an expert in the ADU world. This got me a lot of experience with new developers, all word of mouth, that were doing much larger projects. They had been the ones to entitle these 100-unit buildings and these 200-unit buildings that I was now converting spaces with them. Through the process of doing a bit of good work with them and telling them about my background, at the time, my first firm, KFA, was a very well-established firm. They were doing thousands and thousands of units across the city, from and very well-respected business owners. So, a little name dropping there also got me a bit of help in securing some projects, knowing my background being more in the entitlement side of multifamily.

I found that what I really learned was understanding these state laws really could be a benefit to me. So, the ADU law was the first one, and then in 2021, there were a number of state laws that came out, really pushing affordable housing. Density bonuses had always existed in Los Angeles or in the state, you know, from the mid-2000s, like 2005, and they’ve slowly been expanded but not to the degree that they had been in 2021. I got hooked up with one developer that really understood the finance side of these projects and understanding how you could apply these density bonus rules on sites that may not otherwise qualify, and he hit the ground running with three projects that are in construction right now. Those were my first set of affordable housing projects that came through the pipeline. Furthermore, in December of last year, the mayor of Los Angeles signed into order the executive directive one, which further streamlined affordable housing. I got wise on this pretty early on, and over the last year now, 11 months, we’ve signed up about 45 projects which is about 5,000 units of 100% affordable housing. So, through that process, I’ve become an expert in ED1, the mayor’s executive directive, and pairing that with a number of those state laws, really becoming ahead of the curve and understanding and really squeezing projects for returns.

I say that in a kind of tongue-and-cheek way. You know, my experience in school was always, architects are designers, and just that. It’s very unfortunate, but we learned in school about EOB Arts, which was the French School of Design from the 17th century, where architects really were everything. They were the engineers, they were the architects, they were the designers, they designed the curtains that went in the buildings, they designed the handrails, and that’s just not really the case anymore. Everything is so specialized, with all these lists of consultants, 20-30 deep on some of these projects, the architect is now very specialized. So, what I felt was missing, which goes back to that businessmen are poor architects, architects are poor businessmen, is what more could I do. Number one was understanding what a project can be, and that was those state laws. Too often, architects were going off into design land, where the most fantastical idea suits the project best, and there’s no concept of cost and constructibility. I didn’t think that was the right process. You have to design for something that is actually buildable and constructable. So, I really took the ideas of squeezing projects from a returns perspective to also being more than an architect and telling the Client, hey, you’re missing out on value. We need to be thinking about this a different way. So, I started kind of taking into my services land use consultancy. I’ve become an expert in land use laws in the state of California and, more notably, Los Angeles city. That’s kind of how I try to become more than an architect. On most of my projects, we run the entitlements ourselves, which is pretty rare. Typically, our clients will hire land use consultants or an attorney to help out with that process. I thought that bringing that in-house keeps everything a little bit more streamlined, and that’s been a little bit of a token of my success as well.

What I’ve also learned from is working fast, and breaking things is okay. I know that’s a famous Mark Zuckerberg-ism, but I think it’s also applicable to business owners, especially small businesses. When you’re just one guy, you’ve got to do everything, and you sometimes need to get there faster than you want to be when you’ve got clients with guns to your head. Throughout that process, I’ve developed an architecture firm. I started it in 2017, shortly after that one project that I had, and it’s grown to be a 19-person architecture firm. We’ve got 11 people here and eight people abroad. What I found is that there are really two phases of architecture that make us money: the architects, and that is the concept and the execution. There’s this whole middle ground of putting things on pages and getting them ready for city submittals that I found would be best outsourced. We’ve brought on to our team a number of people abroad that have helped us out with that middle level that allows the people here in Los Angeles to focus more on what makes us money, which is the concept and then the construction drawings. So we’re coming up with a good concept, and we’re executing it well in the field.

It’s an awesome story. I was just in LA a couple of weeks ago. We did the SOI stadium tour, and that whole area with the Hollywood development and the Clippers building their stadium and all the other stuff they’re doing out there, it was really amazing to see the transformation. Century Boulevard, not the greatest area, but there are some nice areas right around there, but it definitely needed some help, and they did a beautiful job with the stadium and just all around there. It was really nice. Number two, I was an economics political science major, so I totally get that. And number three, you’re completely right. I’ve talked to so many architects that tell me when they went to school, they get out, and what they were going to do is completely different than what they taught you in school. Really, architecture firms are project managers these days, in my opinion, because you’re dealing with the GC, you’re dealing with the owners, and all the other people that are involved in the project. Everybody’s tied to the hip, and multifamily really is a real estate gig. It’s dirt, land, it’s going to get developed, and multifamily was such a hot topic that we actually added our column; it’s probably been three or four years that we added that to a section in the magazine that we portray. I just had a column in where a guy was taking shipping containers and making them into affordable housing, and I posted it up the other night on the web, and these people were eating it up. So, but you’re so right, being an entrepreneur, they don’t teach you how to do that in school. It’s good that you worked for the large firm and then the small firm, so you could take everything that you learned from there and then put it in your own vision. And listen, eight, nine out of ten businesses don’t make it when they go out on their own, so congratulations on biting the entrepreneurial apple. It’s very exciting to hear. I went myself in 2001 when I was with Neil and everybody told me not to do it, my parents, all my friends, you’ve got an expense account, you could retire here, I heard all, and I was like, nope, I’m going to go out and roll the dice, and here I am, you know, 22, 24 years later, whatever it is. It’s exciting, and you can run your company the way that you had the vision to do it, and also being an athlete. I like talking to athletes that played whether it was in high school or college or even pro because everything that you learned on that athletic field as a soccer player, you had your own individual player, but you were a team player, and all of those things that you took, definitely, maybe I’m wrong, but I think all those lessons learned is, you know, winning and losing, being a team player, that all helped you in developing your firm. Am I correct on that too? Do you think? Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I was overly competitive my whole life. Me and my sister turned everything into a competition. She was two years older, so she usually won, but that always gave me that underdog spirit. So, as a result, I feel like I’ve been scrappy and bootstrapped my way to the top, or at least wherever I am now. It’s been very valuable, I think, the understanding of team sports, especially how to work with people that you like and don’t like and finding ways to beat the other team, whether that other team is another architecture firm or maybe the city or building plan checker. I think there’s a lot of satisfaction that comes out of that, that a lot of it stems also from my sports gigs. Well, here’s a nice little tidbit. My wife, she was married before I married her. We’ve been together now almost 33 years, but her first husband was the goalie for the 1980 Olympic team, and then he also played goalie for the indoor soccer team that was in St. Louis. I don’t know what they were called, but they had a little pizza restaurant, like a sports bar and so forth, while she was married. So that’s my St. Louis famous story. She always brings it up, and you know, you can look Jamie up, but he was definitely the 1980 goalie, and he was that professional league when it was really kicking tail back in the day. Listen, soccer is just like lacrosse or hockey; it’s running, it’s doing this and that. They’re probably some of the greatest athletes in the world, and it’s amazing what people can do with their feet and their legs. We got the Atlanta United here, and they brought the cup home a couple of years ago, and it’s tough to win a championship. You can’t do it every year, but that’s why you know it’s the love of the game and getting to the top and being able to raise the… I was a hockey lacrosse player, so I got my sticks behind me. I was really a hockey player. I didn’t even pick up my stick till my sophomore year in prep school, but I actually went to the University of Denver, and we didn’t have a football team; we had a hockey team. But we used to go out to California during the spring for our spring break. We either go to Florida to play lacrosse or we go out to California. We stay at Whittier, and we play USC, UCLA, and all the teams out there. This is back before they had the leagues and all that, but very fond of and being a Trojan. Hey, you know, that’s first-class University, in my opinion, and you should be psyched that
you did your grad work there and you know You came out, but congratulations again on being an entrepreneur because not everybody can do it. They just can’t. Some people have to go into an office, be told what to do. Other people, you know, you’re the captain of the ship. You got to go down with the ship if it doesn’t, you know, the Titanic’s going down, you’re going down with it. So, you’re the best person to be on board. So, that whole concept, myself, listen, when I bought the, when I bought that bid into that entrepreneur apple, shoot, I didn’t get paid for six or eight months. But I had faith in me. It’s not that I can’t do it, it’s how am I going to do it, or how am I going to get this done, and you have to stay positive, got to put the blinders on, and get rid of all the naysayers that say that you can’t do it. Being positive, just like when I went to prep school, I was in a small little school in New Jersey, 500 kids, but we’re all athletes. But we used to play all these big high schools, it was like David and Goliath all the time, so we were always the underdogs, but we used to knock off some big teams. The same with the University of Denver, we didn’t have a football team, but we had a killer hockey team and lacrosse program was being built, you know, now we’re a perennial powerhouse. We were always in the NCAAs, and just in general, like I said, talking to athletes, they understand that concept.

So, let’s talk about JZA and lessons learned, so how you weathered the storm during the roller coaster when it started in March of 2020, and today, and maybe a couple of mentions of a couple of your favorite projects that you’ve completed. Yeah, so I was very fortunate during the roller coaster to come out in a much better position than I went in, actually. Like I mentioned, I started the firm in 2017, had a couple of years of getting my feet under me before it all happened. At that time, I was doing those student housing projects around USC. One, I knew the neighborhood, I knew USC, and USC is also a private school where a lot of kids come from out of state and out of city. I was doing student housing, so the kids needed somewhere to live. My clients were very freaked out, they thought students weren’t going to be going back to school, they were going to be working from home, but what they really saw was there was no dip in tenancy in all of their projects during those couple of years. So, what they saw was kids still want to go to school, kids still want to be around their friends. Juniors and seniors are typically what we were housing off campus, and they saw really no dip in their business. So, by way of the trickle-down effect, that meant my business was also still growing. I think people were afraid, and so my client was actually able to purchase a lot of property during that time and actually expand their business. Through that process, with more work coming in, I needed more people. I started hiring, and I think at the time, I was three people, then a year in, we were five, and then the next year, we were nine, so we just kind of started doubling in size. Throughout that process, the ADU business that I mentioned earlier was growing. I was very fortunate to be on the resi side. Really, the commercial guys didn’t do so well, you know, and still aren’t doing well, with the advent of work at home and everything else. We’ve been fortunate that we began specializing in affordable housing. The wealth gap in America is growing and growing, and it’s not coming down unless the supply goes up. So, I’ve been put in this very fortunate position where it’s the wild wild west of development right now, especially in Los Angeles with this affordable housing where I’ve got projects coming in daily, and they’re larger and larger. I’ve kind of been in this philosophy of let future Jeff figure that out, or this is future Jeff’s problem. So, we’ve been growing at somewhat unrestrained speed, saying yes to projects, and really just trying to put our best foot forward. Through that process, I just got lucky. It’s really what it is. I think no amount of success comes without luck and a lot of failure. Sure, there were failures in there, things that we missed, working too fast, coming back and fixing mistakes when it was too late. But through the process, I think what’s most important is that you learn something. It’s okay to make mistakes, so long as you learn from it. If you make the same mistake over and over, then that’s the problem. So yeah, I’ve led that philosophy with myself and also my office. We have a number of junior staff, and similar to what I was put under, I give them the sink or swim mentality, and I force them to do a lot of good work and do it fast, and sometimes they’re going to make mistakes. It’s a learning experience for us all.

But going back to answer your question, really, we just were in the right place, right time. Timing in business is everything. Number one, number two, if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not going to learn. It’s just like losing a soccer game or hockey or lacrosse game. It could be 15 nothing or 15-14. The bottom line is if you win, it’s great. Winning ugly, there’s nothing wrong, it’s still a W. But losing big or small, it’s a mistake, call it what you want, but you have to learn from it because you might play that team again, and you’ve got to create your game plan. You also have to be flexible because the game plan that you might have created, one of your guys might get hurt, or one of their players might get hurt, and you go in at halftime, you have to be able to scrap that game plan and go in and try to get the W. So, the last thing that you said that I’ll mention on what you were just talking about was that over the last three and a half years of the roller coaster, so many firms became so much more profitable because they learned more about their business, they learned more about their employees, they also learned that there’s more to work than just doing it all day. You have to live, and people can actually work remotely, get things done, be more productive. They don’t have to sit around the water cooler and talk about gossip. So many firms, I don’t care if they’re contractor, architect, brands, they would have built more stuff if there wasn’t, if they had more PMS or more supers, and permitting wasn’t slow. I mean, all of those things, they probably could have done more business and more revenue. But I really think over the, you know, I always talk, listen, you’ve got to always look at the negative and make a positive of it. So yeah, we were shut down, yeah, it was a bummer, I feel terrible for all the restaurants because they really got hammered. But depending on what sector you were in, you really could be able to flourish. And the smart ones, you know, I look at multi-housing kind of like a hotel. When the shutdown happened, and the roller coaster came into effect, if you were a hotelier, you had time to have your hotel kind of not open, and you could put new carpet in, new FF&E. If you were a multifamily, those construction projects were probably essential, so they were going to go on as they were, but if they were older facilities, you could renovate them. So when people actually came back and they were looking for a place to live, like USC and in that surrounding area, they would feel better. I’m sure rates went up, you know, living expenses, you know, living is just going up, that hey, this place looks beautiful. It’s an older facility, but they’ve done some good renovation work, and now I don’t mind paying that little extra money because it’s so much nicer, just with a little fresh Paint or what have you. So, that’s kind of the way that I look at those things, and it’s been an amazing ride for everybody. But being the leader of your team, I’m sure you’ve had some sleepless nights. But when the project’s over and you turn the keys over, there’s nothing better than having a happy client, am I right? Yeah, the happy client is the best client, and doing good work is the best work. You do it once, and you’ll do it a hundred times because that one person will brag about their project, they’ll tell their friends, and before long, you’ll have hundreds of people knocking at your door. And I think I’ve really benefited from that as well. We don’t market; we don’t go out and advertise; it’s just kind of all word of mouth. So, there really is nothing better than that. Yeah, you know, it’s like being on the field, and you got some guy chirping at you, and I’m like, hey, just look at the scoreboard at the end of the day, at the end of the game. I’ll let the scoreboard do the talking; I don’t need to chirp back at you. I’m not going to waste my time. So, actions speak louder than words, and taking action is the most important thing.

So, Jeff, if someone wanted to reach out to you and bounce some questions off of you, whether it was multifamily or architecture or my son was thinking about going to USC or whatever that question might be, how would they contact you? You can email me, Jeff at I’m also available on Instagram at jzarchitecture. So listen, if you’re thinking about getting into multifamily or you’re having some issues with a project, and you want to bounce some things off, like I said, if you had a child who wants to go to USC, here’s an alum, or Washington in St. Louis, reach out to Jeff, and he can give you his firsthand experience on any of those issues. If anybody wants to reach me, you can get me at David C at ccrm Listen, I’m very familiar with jz; I get their press releases. That’s how he got in when the pub sent it to me. I like the multifamily because I have a multifamily section in my magazine. So that’s why I had Jeff on. I know it’s a hot market, just where I live around here. We’ve got a couple of multifamilies going up right down the road, so I’m watching all that stuff get built and constructed. Listen, it’s like playing the lottery; if you don’t buy a ticket, you can’t win. If you don’t send me something, I can’t look at it. And let us be the judge; it could be a new project, a personnel announcement, an anniversary, a charity golf tournament, whatever. Send it to us; we post all day long. We have a couple of million people that come to our site, become a destination point, and we put all sorts of stuff up there. One of the things that I found out during the roller coaster is that there is more to work life, you know, there’s a lot more to life. So I’ve started posting all sorts of stuff, how to buy a new phone, what’s the right car insurance, and so we’ve diversified the content that goes on there. But the biggest thing is, you have to take action; you have to send me something. And if you do, we’ll post it; we’ll send you the URL; you share it. It’s good for our SEO, which is our search engine optimization, so Google can find you and all that digital stuff. So send it to me; we’ll get you live up on the CCR magazine site.

So, Jeff, as we finish up this episode, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, by the way, if there was one positive thought or phrase that you’d like to leave with our listeners as we finish Q4 and end the new year and go into 2024, what would that be? I think it’s easy. Always put your best foot forward. In any relationship, you don’t know where it might lead you. My business has always been about relationships and doing good work, and also just being respectful of everyone around you. You never know where those relationships might lead you. There might be new projects; there might be new friendships. So, I’ve always implemented that in our daily lifestyle, and it’s worked out well for me, and I think it would for anyone else. Listen, when you take action, you have to put one foot at least forward to go forward. You don’t want to be going backward; you want to be going forward. So, step, you know, step forward. I’m all with you there. And listen, I’ve taken digital classes for the last year. I thought I knew becoming a digital magazine publisher, and my wife said I was crazy, but I’ve been taking digital classes all year long. I have a business page that I have to nurture every night with motivational quotes. I normally do athletes, but I put one up the other night that was simple stuff, you know, steady, sure. So as long as you’re kind of going through the momentum of the business cycle, as long as you’re moving forward with your blinders on but steady and sure, you will end up. But once again, it’s taking action. If you take action today, a year from now, you’ll be excited. It’s just like starting if you want to lose some weight or if you want to read the Bible or the Torah or whatever you’re going to do. You have to start at a point, and then at the end, just like you start a game, at the end of the game, you’ll learn, but you’ll see where you end up, whether you win or lose. It’s the learning that’s the most important. And if you’re not making mistakes out there, you’re not going to learn. Make as many mistakes as you can. No one is 100% right. And some of the greatest business people, they made mistakes, trust me. But as long as you learn from it and implement the corrections, it’s going to be great. But I love stepping, you know, step your foot forward. Awesome, awesome.

So, with that said, with everybody out there on Commercial Construction Coffee Talk, Thanksgiving is coming up next week. Enjoy the holiday weekend. Don’t talk politics, please, and just smile, eat some food, watch some football, enjoy your time with the family, recharge your battery, clear all the negativity out of your head, and then come back and finish the last month of the year out and go into 2024. I always tell people right now that send me notes, I always say finish 2023 strong and with momentum into 2024, and that’s what we want everybody to do. So, Jeff, I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation, and say goodbye from SoCal. “Alright, thank you, everyone, for having us. Appreciate it.” Yeah, and I’m going to sign off from Sugar Hill, Georgia, which is about 25 miles north of Atlanta, up by Lake Lanier, which has about 600 miles of coastline. If you’ve never seen it, you can look it up on the map. It feeds all of Atlanta and Florida, Alabama; it’s a huge lake. The Army Corps of Engineers flooded it back in the ’80s, I think it is, but it’s an ocean out there. There are some really big boats, and right below the dam, I can hear the siren go off that says, “Get out of the Chattahoochee; the water’s coming down.” So, with that said, like I said, everybody, enjoy the holiday, and we will see you next time on another episode of Commercial Construction Coffee Talk. And next time I get out to LA, Jeff, I want to see you down in USC. I want to see some of those projects in person. “Okay, let’s do it. Can’t wait.” Alright, everybody, we’ll catch you next time.


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