Look under the hood of two distinct foodservice programs.
Rutter's Farm Stores
“I never would have been able to do this kind of program in a convenience store even 15 years ago,” says Jerry Weiner, Rutter’s vice president of foodservice, about the advances in foodservice technology and product quality.
Rutter’s Farm Stores’ vast menu mix ranges from deli sandwiches to General Tso’s chicken to spaghetti and meatballs. The entire program is executed through a holding system to maximize speed and efficiency while still serving a quality product. This is where Weiner’s gratitude for technology comes from.
“I have not found any means to deliver the really higher-quality products efficiently—meaning speed of service—without some kind of holding unit,” he says. “If you don’t do that, it’s very difficult to deliver any sizable menu or even high-quality product.”
The centerpiece of the prep area is two Prince Castle six-drawer holding units, which hold virtually all ingredients except fried foods and breads. Sautéed vegetables, eggs and meats are cooked to the desired degree of doneness and held in the units until they are ordered.
Each store also has two TurboChef High h batch ovens—accelerated cooking ovens that function without microwaves to bake the five kinds of sub rolls and two ciabatta breads available at each store.
“Fresh baked bread was one of the paramount pieces that I wanted as part of the program. So I started with that premise, and then found what could bake the bread, but then everything else had to work within that piece of equip-ment,” says Weiner. Each store also has two microwaves for bringing sauces and other foods up to proper holding temperatures.
Two encased Perfect Fry fryers in each store keep exposure to hot oils to a minimum. Most of the fried foods are made to order, though there is a dump station for fries. Directly under the fryers are freezer drawers filled with portioned bags of each item to minimize waste.
Unique to Rutter’s, the wok area is outfitted with drop-in coolers for the vegetables and a drop-in hot well for the meat, rice and noodles. The woks themselves are induction cook tops, which use electromagnetic energy to heat cookware made of magnetic material. Pans heat up quickly, while the cook top itself remains cool to the touch and produces much less ambient heat than traditional cook tops.
“I’m not a fan of open flame in our world. I think it’s just asking for something unpleasant to happen,” says Weiner.
The foodservice area is rounded out with a sandwich make table and steamer wells for holding Alfredo, marinara, gravies and mashed potatoes.
Appearance is crucial for Southwest Kitchen, the new proprietary foodservice concept from Western Refining’s Retail Division. Because most of the stores prepare the food in a back kitchen and bring it up front for grab and go, strong branding and appealing food photography are key to making sales.
“Our biggest thing was standardizing a really good-looking and professional menu board,” says Keith Kuells, category manager. In November, Southwest Kitchen was launched in 18 of Western’s Giant convenience stores in Arizona. It did so well, they launched another seven in January. “We also wanted to rationalize our menu to make sure our highest-velocity items were on the menu with the actual product shot.”
The program consists of regional specialties such as green chile stew, a Frito pie wrap, chimichangas and a Navajo burger—which uses fry bread in place of the bun and is topped with a chili pepper—as well as mainstays such as corn dogs and chicken strips. At each store, three to four staff members, as well as the manager, are responsible for following build-tos and cooking all the food for each day.
To avoid buying all new equipment, the company chose its first round of stores from locations with the best traffic patterns and a history of foodservice. The second round was outfitted with deep fryers, industrial microwaves, prep tables and coolers and freezers. All the stores received new 4-foot Hatco food warmers as well as catchy menu boards.
But the program wouldn’t be pos-sible without the Resfab hoodless deep fryers, says Kuells. “We were able to put deep fryers into the back of these stores without doing the entire hood and going through the gyrations of tearing the back of the store up,” he says. “That for us is key, because a lot of our items go through the deep fryer.”
The fryers are programmed with cook times for each menu item, easing labor and ensuring consistency. For Mike Polo, director of marketing, a dream piece of equipment would be an automatic build-to optimizer, “the software that automatically tells you how many you need to put out to satisfy demand without having any spoils.”
Kuells would like to try out a fastbake oven, but “going to the oven is a whole other adventure, and a lot of our floor plans just don’t have room to do everything.”
Moving forward, the company plans to assess sales data and determine how to continue the Southwest Kitchen rollout. “I think we truly believe that food is the way to go with the margins that we can generate,” says Kuells.