Keeping Foodservice Equipment Efficient

Due diligence and proper maintenance can protect your investment and help keep your kitchen tools running longer.

By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.

Choosing the right foodservice equipment can be an often overwhelming task given the range of options available to retailers today. Efficient cooking equipment from induction cooktops, clamshell griddles, convection ovens and combi ovens abound, making it necessary to weigh cost, machine life, maintenance and size along with the usual cost and ROI considerations.

With ingredient costs in 2013 on the rise and with foodservice increasingly vital to the bottom line at c-stores, doing due diligence and assessing your needs upfront can save dollars long-term.

Scott Zaremba, owner of eight Zarco 66 Earth Friendly Fuels stations in Kansas does a strong foodservice business, including with its Sandbar Subs and Scooter’s coffeeshop programs.

“Our prep tables are a big deal for us in sandwiches, but there’s a difference in size, and we learned that the hard way,” Zaremba said.
Chains partnering with a food franchise will often have access to a variety of table sizes to fit a specific space. Retailers going out on their own with a foodservice program, however, have much less wiggle room. As such, they need to weigh a number of options before cutting a check for a specific table or any other investment.

“You have to look at how many products you’re going to have on that prep table, and what those products are going to be. What are the container sizes and how will the meat be sliced and stacked? Will you need a space for condiments? There’s just a plethora of things you have to look at,” Zaremba said. “If you make a mistake and have to upgrade, that comes right out of your profits.”

Learn From Others
If you’re starting from scratch, Zaremba recommended taking a look at another retailer’s operation and learning from what they’ve done. “You’ll be amazed at what you find once you get started on the due diligence,” he said. “Somebody has already invented the wheel, so go look at what they’re doing.”

One you’ve passed the prep area, more considerations appear. “Are you going to have hot table items? Are you going to hold your breads or meats or the whole product in that warmer? There are multiple types of warmers. Do you need one that is humidified? A lot of times people think they’re going to put sandwiches in a heated cabinet; well, it’s not humidified, so the product dries out quickly,” Zaremba warned.

Zarco 66 is currently making its roller grill products made to order, so its roller grills are used only to display the products. Zaremba sees made to order as a major foodservice trend that is going to continue, which means having equipment that helps maintain proper food temperature is a key consideration.

When it comes to crafting sandwiches, Zarco 66 uses two different models of TurboChef ovens to bake the bread. It first began baking its own bread about three years ago. Today, the chain uses its own bread recipe and has its breads custom made, which arrive in frozen dough form and are baked-off on site.

“The TurboChef is one of the keys to our entire foodservice operation,” Zaremba said. “Having the right bread oven that could do the amount of volume we need to do and maintain quality during the cooking process is vital to our mission.”

Plus, depending on the municipality, TurboChef ovens don’t require a hood, “so you can keep some of your infrastructure costs down,” Zaremba said.

Maintenance Matters
When evaluating foodservice equipment, maintenance assistance is an important concern.

“With a lot of this equipment, maintenance is the key to your success. If you have access to parts and repair personnel who will repair your items in a timely fashion, then that makes a big difference in the amount of time equipment will be offline if something should break down,” Zaremba said. “That is extremely important if you’re a smaller chain like we are. We don’t have the ability to have a lot of extra stock, so we need someone who can maintain and repair it quickly.”

When Zaremba first forayed into foodservice, he started with used equipment, which helped him learn what he liked and didn’t like about specific units. “We found out that a lot of little things can have a big impact on your production quality,” he said. “Because of that, we have very specific requirements when purchasing equipment. We want machinery that will operate at a high level over a long period of time.”

Better Blending
Chicago-based research firm, Mintel International listed“liquid assets” as one of the four biggest foodservice trends for 2013. In other words, from gourmet cocktails to healthful smoothies customers expectations for the beverage category are driving innovation and retailers would be wise to tap into that growing demand.
Zarco 66 serves up a range of fruit smoothies that are either ice cream or yogurt based at its Sandbar Subs and Scooter’s coffeehouse concepts.

“Blenders can be very expensive and what we’ve found is that the units all seem to be very reliable except for one issue—they’re not maintained and they’re not cleaned on a regular basis,” Zaremba said. “These machines need to be cleaned down to the motors or they will not operate properly for very long.”

To solve the problem, Zaremba partnered with an outside company who swaps out the units, tears them down and deep cleans them—the result being increased motor life. “Blenders have extremely hard working motors, so maintenance is especially a big deal with blenders,” he said. But routine cleanings can assist the efficiency of all your equipment.

“You can have the cleanest kitchen, but it’s amazing how much stuff can float through the air and go right into the motors in any of the equipment, so taking the equipment apart to the mechanical level of the motors and cleaning those out, we found, limits our downtime and improves performance. They draw a lot more amperage as they get dirtier and once they’re cleaned the performance comes back and the amperage draws come way down,” he said.  

Cook to Perfection
Casey’s General Stores with more than 1,700 stores in 12 states also takes maintenance into account when selecting equipment for its foodservice needs. “We look to make sure the equipment comes with a good service warranty,” said Bill Walljasper, Casey’s longtime senior vice president and chief financial officer.

Casey’s has been busy converting many of its existing locations to 24-hours and expanding its pizza delivery program, which it began in February 2011. The chain relies on a Lincoln Impinger Oven for pizza and several of its other foodservice offerings.

“We have continued to use the Impinger Pizza Oven throughout all of our pizza-making years due to the longevity and the consistency of the way it cooks products,” Walljasper said. “Our main thing when it comes to a pizza oven is to make sure it cooks a pizza consistently the same way every time. This is the same way we picked our Nu-Vu bread-making oven. It consistently made a great loaf of bread every time.”

The chain is also known for its fresh-made cake doughnuts. Its sub program, which complements the pizza program, is also starting to gain traction.

Casey’s also uses a Univex Mixer, Taylor Ice Cream and FCB Machines, a Belshaw Donut Fryer, Hatco Food Warmers, Somerset Dough Rollers, Beverage Air prep tables and Wells Deep Fryers.  

“We tested all of these items through the years and continue to test competit
ive items on all equipment we use. We also will put the equipment in several locations and test it there for a few months before making any decisions,” Walljasper said. “Before it goes to any of our stores though, we will always bring the equipment to our test kitchen at the corporate office and try it out first. I think that is critical for success with any new piece of equipment.”

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