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Your Pie, Starbird, Blazing Onion founders spell out brands’ top kitchen equipment demands

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The kitchen is the heart that keeps any restaurant brand running, and  in an industry as fast-moving and filled with competitors as this one, leaders know that this key part of the business must fire on all cylinders at all times. That’s no small trick to pull off and one of the reasons the subject was the focus of a well-attended session at this fall’s Fast Casual Executive Summit in Seattle. In the hour-long panel discussion, a trio of restaurant brand leaders relayed their brands’ individual equipment needs, along with some of their kitchen tool challenges and success stories.

The panel included:

  • Blazing Onion co-founder and CEO David Jones.
  • Starbird and Culinary Edge Ventures founder and President Aaron Noveshen.
  • Your Pie founder and President Drew French.

The session — moderated by Taylor Company Product Line Manager Missy Wolfe —  started with the restaurateurs relaying a few tales about how the right equipment choice, in some cases, literally saved the brand’s face and reputation.

For instance, at Starbird, the brand pulled a bit of a culinary coup by obtaining the right to operate in the San Francisco 49ers Levi’s Stadium. Noveshen said the kind of hungry, demanding and voluminous crowds the stadium’s events attract demands that everything is cooked quickly and consistently.

“We learned that the demand is unbelievable in that stadium. …” he told the conference room full of summit attendees. “We got some great learnings there about having the right equipment.”

But Your Pie CEO Drew French pointed out that sometimes — even when you think the latest equipment technology is what you need — a brand can find that a more “old school” equipment variation really fits its identity and mission better.

“The original idea we had (for Your Pie ovens) was to use an impingement (oven, which uses the same principles of forced air movement to heat as the convection oven),” French said. “But then we went on our honeymoon (in Italy) and we really got inspired by the old brick ovens. That really changed everything.”

Flexibility is key in the kitchen

All three restaurateurs, however, made it clear that the flexibility of equipment is always high on their “must-have” lists. At Blazing Onion, leadership was preparing to add breakfast to the menu on weekends when they realized their broiler-heavy kitchen needed some tweaks to accommodate required breakfast fare preparation.

“Our restaurants are about broilers, but we needed a bigger space to accommodate (cooking) pancakes and hash browns and the like,” Jones said. “So, we’ve been trying to come up with something we can use over the broilers.”

French said while the flexibility of equipment is key, the consistency of equipment performance is truly non-negotiable.

“A lot of it, too, is trying to evolve with customer trends to make sure we stay relevant,” he said. “But then we always have to balance that with the equipment and ask if it can really do what we’re asking it to do.”

Noveshen said his company tries to remain “agnostic” about individual equipment vendors, seeking instead to match the restaurant brand to the best devices for its specific needs, while working to keep all restaurant concepts under their tutelage on the leading edge with their kitchen tool choices.

“At Culinary Edge, we’re working with so many leading restaurant companies, we spend a lot of time with clients looking at their entire experience … and we’re even touring clients’ (brands) probably twice a month. Then we’re also looking at what retail is doing, what Amazon is doing and the like.

“But we have to be agnostic because when we partner with restaurant companies … our goal is to figure out what’s best for those clients we serve, irrespective of (equipment makers).”

All three brands attended trade shows regularly to stay up to date on the latest and greatest innovations in kitchen machinery and technology. And both Your Pie and Blazing Onion leaders found all kinds of travel to be a huge area of inspiration for great kitchen gadgetry and technology.

“I too, like Drew (French at Your Pie) love to travel,” Jones said. “I love to introduce myself to restaurants and see if I can con my way into the kitchen.”

But when it comes to getting equipment suppliers to really match their products with each concept’s needs on an ongoing basis, French said it’s always a work in progress.

“Hopefully, we’re building expectations with our suppliers that … we’re always willing to test things out,” he said. “I mean they want to sell you more stuff, so they’re usually very willing to do that.”

Jones said at Blazing Onion, when it comes to top equipment concerns, vendors know it’s all about the bread.

“For us, we bake our fresh bread in-house and … we really wanted to be merchandising that in-restaurant,” Jones said. “And our vendors will literally design a piece of equipment.”

Looks do count … a lot

As far as the actual appearance of the increasingly on-view restaurant kitchen, most of the panelists said that aspect definitely played into their ultimate equipment choices. Noveshen, for instance, said when his company works with brands they typically don’t distinguish between the front and back of the house, when it comes to outward appearances. It all has to look good.

“We tell our team, ‘We are always camera-ready in what we do’,” he said.

French agreed wholeheartedly, saying at Your Pie, “We’ve built everything around that … because everything is visual,” he told the group. “People eat with their eyes so it’s (the appearance of restaurant kitchen equipment that) is critical to everything we do.”

Still, new equipment always means new training demands and fitting that so-called “learning curve” into the flow of everyday business. It’s never easy, but the panelists said they have their on-site teams in mind when it comes to equipment selection.

For example, French said, his brand came across a relatively easy fix to an often-difficult in-kitchen problem.

“We use clear pans,” he said simply, “so our staff can see the ingredients.”

And at Starbird, Noveshen said they choose kitchen tools that help to add small successes rather than lots of little equipment problems.

“We ask, ‘How are they going to feel good about coming to work?'” he said.  “So are we staying conscious of their experience of being in the restaurant. …

“We have to make sure the process is there and simplify the process … to make it a better work experience because they can choose, and … they’ll just go somewhere else.”

Jones said having humble and open-minded leaders willing to withstand a little face-forward criticism goes a long way toward choosing equipment that employees will appreciate.

“All our cooks go through my kitchen design and criticize the hell out of me!” said Jones, to a wave of laughter from the crowd. “It’s a fun exercise and really, I think we’re all the better for it.”

Republished with permission from QSRweb.

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