Meeting the growing demands for a solid foodservice program means having the right equipment in your store.
By David Bennett, Senior Editor
Because foodservice has become a prominent segment of the convenience store industry, such a boon to most bottom lines has also spurred expansion in the foodservice equipment industry.
Good food delivered fast is the quickest way to a loyal customer’s heart and wallet. So, any equipment that can speed up production is worth assessing. Dependable brands of high-speed ovens on the market can add a toasty crunch to your sandwiches in less time than it takes a traditional oven.
Alto-Shaam Cres Cor, Hatco and Hoshizaki are brands that have become industry standards.
Whether a retailer’s foodservice needs include baking, frying or grilling, logic dictates that the better the equipment, the better the food quality. However, figuring out what works best for a specific c-store operation requires strategic planning, in addition to considering maintenance and service requirements, food quality, labor efficiency and other needs.
When it comes to food offerings, c-store customers don’t want to trade quality for convenience, nor do they want to sacrifice convenience for quality. Meeting the growing demands for a solid foodservice program means having the right equipment in your kitchen.
There are times when upgrades and higher-dollar purchases can improve your food quality, boost your overall efficiency and help you carve out a unique niche in the marketplace. Plus, old cooking equipment can impact your business in more ways than one. In addition to repairs being a financial drain, malfunctioning equipment can bring down food quality and reduce your store’s overall efficiency.
Launched four years ago, Foxtrot Market currently operates four stores in Chicago. Its business model blends e-commerce, on-demand delivery and a striking brick-and-mortar experience to meet consumers’ shopping needs for quick, quality items and foodservice.
The last platform is being refined by Brad Alexander, Foxtrot’s executive chef and a veteran of Chicago’s culinary scene.
Alexander said the right kitchen equipment makes a world of difference when preparing quality menu choices.
“We looked at concepts with similar heat and serve offerings as a reference point, but I primarily used my 15 years of restaurant experience to choose equipment I was familiar with and knew would suit the type of food we wanted to offer at Foxtrot, and developed our menu with the capabilities of those pieces in mind,” Alexander said.
One important factor when deciding equipment needs is available space. Anymore, finding a multi-functional unit can take the place of two pieces of cooking or baking gear.
With all of the new cooking technology, there’s likely a single piece of cooking equipment that can cover most or all of your needs,” Alexander said. “I’ve found that the sales reps of these companies are great resources if you’re unfamiliar with an item—most will let you bring menu items in to test before you purchase to make sure the equipment will be a good fit.”
Heather Davis, director of food service at Savannah, Ga.-based Parker’s Convenience Stores agrees, saying the more multi-purpose a cooking unit is the better. The chain of 54 stores Georgia and South Carolina in the last two years has been expanding its Parker’s Kitchen concept, built around Southern-inspired favorites like fried chicken and mac ‘n’ cheese.
Some locations offer a breakfast bar with fresh-made egg casserole, bacon, sausage, cheese grits and biscuits. Of course, a good meal starts with good equipment.
“Some of the key considerations we assess when it comes to foodservice equipment include programming ability and versatility,” Davis said. “Can the equipment cook multiple items that may require different temperatures and different cook-times simultaneously? How easy is it for the employee to initiate the cooking process?”
Of course, there are other questions to ask.
“Testing is critical,” Davis said. “Many companies will provide a test unit to use in your operation to determine if it will meet your needs. Work with a vendor who will provide support regarding menu development for the equipment and offer training during the testing phase.”
Of course, new foodservice equipment options aren’t just relegated to behind the counter. For example, modern hot dispensed machines are making it easier for c-stores to brew up new hot beverage options.
Teazzers recently introduced its new patent-pending SmartBrew Machine. The new offering is IoT (Internet of Things)-enabled with capabilities to communicate information about each brewing event to a cloud database. The machine is equipped with an eight-inch touchscreen display, recipe management and freshness timers.
Stop-N-Go of Madison, Inc. owns and operates 35 c-stores in Wisconsin and Illinois.
Though some of the locations are equipped with just roller grills, the family-owned c-store chain based in Madison, Wis., is looking to expand its foodservice program in adequate locations, said Megan Ziegler, foodservice manager.
Today, Stop-N-Go operates full-service stores that offer sandwiches, pizza programs, fried chicken and made-to-order burritos. To expand its menu, the company is looking at Ovention ovens for certain locations.
“When we are looking at equipment we take a bunch of factors into consideration,” Ziegler said. “First is space, since we are limited on space in our backrooms we need to find a piece of equipment that doesn’t take up too much space but also has the capability to do a number of different things.”
Because efficiency is paramount, Ziegler looks at all aspects of a potential equipment purchase.
“We also look at the maintenance for the machines—are they easy to clean. When they break down is there someone qualified to work on them in the area and how quickly do they complete the work? Lastly, are there any rebates associated with the equipment? A few of our vendors are nice enough to give us free product when we purchase new equipment.”