My Favorite Machine

Retailers share their most coveted piece of foodservice equipment.

By  Abbie Westra, Editor-in-Chief, Convenience Store Products

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No exaggeration: There are a few equipment innovations that have changed the face of c-store foodservice, allowing retailers to provide products heretofore inconceivable.

High-speed ovens are an obvious example. There are other, rather unassuming pieces that likewise serve as a nucleus for signature products or programs that can differentiate a store from the one down the block.

In salute to those humble units of nuts, bolts and stainless steel, CSP asked some leading c-store foodservice retailers to share, in their own words, what piece of equipment opened their doors to foodservice success. 


Retailer: Tom Terlecky, senior category manager, ampm, La Palma, Calif.

Equipment: Convection oven

The convection oven is the heart of the food program for ampm. The oven serves as a single focus point that heats or bakes everything in our hot food or bakery program. Given that we do not use roller grills, we rely on the convection oven for all food prep. All products hot or baked must be able to work with our cooking platform. While some products can be prepared with other equipment, our prep is greatly simplified using one single piece of equipment. It is also very cost effective to use one piece of equipment for food prep.

Looking at the origins of this equipment at ampm, it traces back to the very beginning of our hot foods in the 1980s. There have been a few different makes/models; however, essentially it has not changed. When we decided to start baked goods in our sites in the late 1990s, the convection oven was a perfect fit. It allows us to bake fresh at each site daily without the need for additional specialized equipment. Hands down, this has given us the quality we require, simplicity of execution and cost effectiveness, and [it’s] understood by everyone.


Retailer: Jerry Weiner, vice president of foodservice, Rutter’s Farm Stores, York, Pa.

Equipment: Warmer drawer, high-speed oven, counter fryer

There are three pieces that are really crucial. The counter fryer—if it wasn’t there it would cost me a lot of sales, but it wouldn’t put me out of business. But the other two (warmer drawers and high-speed oven) I would not be able to function without. The warmer drawers (from Prince Castle) allowed me to take the same approach that I take with cold food: a make table where I have portioned sandwich [ingredients] already made up. Now I can do the same thing in warmer drawers for hot food. To make somebody a cheeseburger with bacon, lettuce, tomato, pickle and peppers is basically the same process as making a ham and cheese, except I have a drawer holding burgers already warm, bacon already warm, whatever else I need.

The ovens (from TurboChef) came in when I did the new program in 2007 and was looking for a piece of equipment to bake bread fresh. I love that piece of equipment; I use it for everything. We do a fresh-baked Stromboli; we make biscuits, muffins, cookies, grilled-cheese sandwiches. It creates a grilled product that’s unbelievable. We use it to make toasted subs and heat up all of our meats. It’s a very efficient piece of equipment and it’s a spine of the program now.

I went to the counter fryer (from PerfectFry) for a couple of reasons. One is employee safety. I’ve worked with fryers and I’ve seen some pretty serious accidents with fryers. It’s like life insurance: It’s a love-hate relationship. You love it because of what it does for you on the sales side; you hate it because of how you have to take care of it in order for it to make you that money. I’ve paid a lot of attention to equipment that’s safe for the employees and relatively easy to take care of. The oil is never exposed to the employee unless they’re filtering it or cleaning it; in both cases you can turn it off and let the oil cool down. They can’t overfry because it dumps the product out automatically. If you push the right button, it’s almost impossible not to put out a consistent product. The fact that I didn’t need to have hoods meant that if I need to add fryers, as I just did in eight stores, I don’t need hood extenders or have to deal with all of those issues with Ansul systems; all I need is 21 inches of counter space.


Retailer: Dean A. Wright, director of dining services, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

Equipment: Ice-cream dipping cabinets, soup warmer, combi oven

One of the keys of success in the convenience-store foodservice arena is knowing what product sets you apart from the competition. At BYU, we are known for our great Creamery-brand ice cream. To drive sales, we have placed Kelvinator ice-cream dipping cabinets in each one of our stores. This way we are able to promote our Purple Cow, the food item that has become a signature item. In the smaller store we feature a holding cabinet for six 3-gallon [containers], while the larger units hold eight. We have them set near the checkout stand to help drive sales. When it is winter and ice-cream sales take a dip, we feature our homemade fresh soups. [For this], we use Duke model TTM2-M soup warmers. These countertop models keep soup at the right temperature and are great point-of-sale merchandisers.

The last piece of equipment we find indispensable is the countertop Rationale combi oven. The versatile cooking piece does nearly everything we need for our hot food preparation. It provides a consistent and cost-effective way to cook—not to mention the great efficiencies.


Retailer: Michael Sherlock, director of foodservice, Wawa, Wawa, Pa.

Equipment: High-speed oven, touch-screen ordering system

When we’re looking at pieces of equipment, there are a few common variables. Obviously, in our industry, speed of service and the ability to turn parking lots and get customers in and out quickly is important. The quality of product is extremely important; given the limited space within our stores, we’re always trying to maximize our investment and make sure that if we’re putting in a piece of equipment, it’s versatile enough to be able to show a return and give us multiple platforms.

One is a conventional type of equipment that’s really served us well over the past five years, and that’s the highspeed oven, a Merrychef. It’s allowed us initially to get into the toasting business for our Hoagie brand, and it was right around the same time that Subway was starting to get into toasting. In fact, we launched it the same year, literally within a month of Subway getting into their program. And then it enabled us to do other products as well without adding other equipment. We don’t have friolators in our stores, but we’ve added chicken strips and other products that typically would have been fried. We use it for warm chocolate-chip cookies and items such as that as well. So it’s a versatile piece of equipment that you can use across several different product lines and multiple day-parts.

You get growth out of platforms for a certain period of time and then your growth kind of peters out. So the high-speed cooking technology with the Merrychefs really came along at the same time when we needed another boost into the hot foods category. By [offering] toasting, more than 35% of our hoagies were toasted right away.

Our touch-screen ordering system has been invaluable to us. It enables us to communicate our offer very effectively. It’s a marketing tool so we can promote new items; we can easily edit the offer with varieties of that day, whether that be soup or hot Hoagies. It allows us to day-part the menus very easily and do combos, and it’s also allowed us from an efficiency standpoint to improve our order accuracy with our customers. It’s allowed us to do upsells with our customers, and reallocated labor into more valueadded tasks.

The touch-screen ordering is in all of our stores and has been for 11 or 12 years. Generally, stores have three terminals; some stores have four terminals. The majority of stores have two Merrychef ovens; some even have a third oven.


Retailer: Paul Servais, retail food service director, Kwik Trip Inc., La Crosse, Wis.

Equipment: High-speed oven

TurboChef ovens make the Kwik Trip world go round. On a busy $1-pizza-slice Wednesday, we have stores that will cook off 160 to 200 pizzas—and they need them fast. Without the oven, we would not have the food success we are having. They are very durable and we have very little downtime. We like these ovens so much we have stores with five of them.


Retailer: Joseph Chiovera, vice president of foodservice, U.S. and Canada, Alimentation Couche-Tard/Circle K, Quebec

Equipment: Rethermalization units

Look today at the rapid-heat ovens—I truly believe that they’re misplaced in c-stores unless they’re going to be utilized properly. A lot of companies use that piece of equipment now to rethermalize already-cooked foods. That’s why you see a quick deterioration of product, because you’re getting microwave speed and efficiency, but when you get that efficiency you break down the food that much faster and harder. If you’re going to eat it right away, fantastic. If you’re going to take it and put it in a warming unit and try to merchandise it for two hours, it’s a failure. I think rethermalization units are the best thing for me. It’s my favorite piece of equipment. You handle the food the way it’s supposed to be handled. You’re not dealing with raw ingredients—you’re dealing with fully cooked products. So when you’re looking at a rethermalization unit, you’re able to bring products back up to temperature rather than cook them. You don’t want that rapid heating that just breaks down the molecules of the food so that the minute it hits the highest point of heat, it starts breaking down even further. Like a roll in a microwave: It’s perfect once it’s done, but then the second you take it out the degradation begins.

With rethermalization, you’re taking the food product that is fully cooked and baked and rethermalizing it to the proper temperature to reactivate the fat, sugars and salt, as well as provide a kill step for the product. It is a marvelous piece of equipment in my eyes because in a c-store environment you don’t necessarily have the ability to handle [raw] ingredients.


Retailer: James Schutz, vice president of people assets, Open Pantry Food Marts of Wisconsin, Pleasant Prairie, Wis.

Equipment: Heated display cases

The heated display case is most important to Open Panty. Whether it is our Santa Fe Café freshly made burritos or our fresh breakfast and lunch sandwiches, the holding unit (from Hatco) gives the grab-and-go customer many choices— all hot and ready to consume.

I found it important to choose a heated display case that distributes the heat evenly around the food and at the same time adds moisture to the air. The added moisture helps to keep the bread product from drying out.

The heated display case allows us to prepare food in advance of peak periods and place product in full-view cabinets to increase impulse sales as well as maintain proper serving temperature and keep food moist and tender. With heat being diffused throughout the cabinet, it provides gentle even heat.

We chose the heated displays cases for our food program after testing many different types of heated holding units, including the ones that heat from the bottom up.


Retailer: Jennifer Vespole, director of foodservice, Quick Chek Corp., Whitehouse Station, N.J.

Equipment: High-speed oven

The one piece of equipment would be the TurboChef oven. It combines both microwave and convection-oven capabilities to allow us to sell our great-tasting toasted subs, sandwiches, burgers, cheese steaks, breakfast sandwiches, etc. It really has opened up a world of menu opportunities for us.

We dabble in lots of great extensions to our menu, such as pizza, quesadillas, garlic knots and breaded chicken wings due to this technology. It allows us to deliver high-quality products quickly. We were one of the first to use this new piece of equipment.

We were using impinger ovens to toast our subs, and then this product came onto the market. We couldn’t say no to it. Not only did it offer two cooking methods in one unit, but it did it faster and more efficiently due to the smaller footprint.   

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