H How to choose the right oven for store, menu

How to choose the right oven for store, menu
BY ABBIE WESTRA | [email protected]
ave you hugged your equipment manufacturer lately?
Because it seems as if recent breakthroughs in cooking technology have all been done with you in mind.
These milestones have opened the door for c-store retailers to
offer a wider variety of foods using less labor and space.
But what are the differences between them? Which piece
of equipment is best suited for your food program? Advancements in accelerated-cooking technology allow retailers to
make high-quality hot foods in a limited-service format. Be it
a TurboChef, Merrychef or some other chef, these ovens quickly
zap countless kinds of food from hundreds of programmed
recipes, often without the need for a ventilation system.
“Then and now, I still call it transformational,” says Stan
Frankenthaler, executive chef for Dunkin’ Brands, Canton,
Mass. In 2007 Frankenthaler helped roll out an oven-toasted
sandwich platform using the TurboChef Tornado oven. “It
helped transform the restaurants, it helped transform the
menu and it gives us a lot of opportunity for the future.”
But an accelerated-cooking oven may be all wrong for you.
Perhaps your store is best suited for a combination (combi)
oven—a technology that may be intimidating at first go, but
which has been used widely in Europe for decades. New countertop mini combis work well for c-store applications.
“At [the new baseball stadium] Target Field in Minneapolis, we have small combi ovens in the majority of our concession stands,” says John DePaola, a combi proponent and
managing principal for Foodservice Resources, a design and
management firm in Fredericksburg, Va. “We plan to use
the combi ovens to bake pretzels, steam hot dogs, rethermalize prepared food and prepare specialty offerings like
pork chop on a stick or beer-braised bratwurst.”
Or what about the trusty conveyor oven, which has been
upgraded with user-friendly functions and a technology
referred to as “air fingers”? Even microwaves have advanced
beyond their perceptions as residential popcorn-poppers.
Your Foodservice Future
The greatest mistake a retailer can make is purchasing a piece
of equipment without first considering what the menu is
and, more important, what the retailer wants it to be. Equipment should be flexible to evolving menus, even opening
up new profit centers such as breakfast sandwiches, or a latenight-munchies menu. Before you know it, you may be
doing dinner entrees. (Four salmon fillets in 120 seconds in
a Merrychef 402S is fast food indeed.)
“I once knew a banker, and he wrote loans for people
who were opening restaurants,” says Mike Matthies, project
manager for Frank Redmond Associates, a Phoenix-based
company that executes food-facilities planning for higher
education, c-stores and more. “He always said, ‘I would never
approve a loan if somebody couldn’t close on Friday and
open on Monday under a different name.’ ” Cooking equipment should be similarly adaptable.
Multi-functionality has been a big focus for equipment manufacturers in recent years, and retailers should look at equipment
pieces that will perform multiple tasks throughout the day. Perhaps you shouldn’t buy a mini combi oven just to batch-cook
french fries; but if you’re also using that combi to cook parbaked breads, bake brownies bites, prepare chicken tenders and
cook and hold breakfast sausage patties, then the ability to bake
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french fries may be another reason to make the purchase.
Alison Cullin-Woodcock, corporate executive chef for
Tampa, Fla.-based Manitowoc Foodservice, recommends
retailers look at a new equipment purchase not in isolation,
but as a “composite piece of money-making real estate.”
“You have to look at it in tandem with the other pieces
you might already have in your store,” she says. “Can you
use an underutilized item more by adding another piece
of equipment? “
In the simplest terms, it’s a question of output vs. volume.
Combi ovens are ideal for batch production and can hold
items after cooking at the desired temperature. Acceleratedcooking ovens should be used for immediate consumption
of one-at-a-time items (though a quality holding unit complements a fast-bake oven well). Conveyor ovens, meanwhile,
are best used for continuous, automated production.
Estimate your finances and return on investment, ask the
right questions, think about the future of your menu and
test-drive any equipment before choosing the best cooking
technology for your operation.
Equipment Comparison
How It Works: A convection fan pulls in air and heats it through impingement plates (which speeds
up the heat transfer) for an even heat pattern and a browned exterior. Meanwhile, the microwave
function uses moisture in the food to heat the products from the inside while keeping them moist. All
three elements can be used together or individually depending on the product being cooked.
Key Features:
䊳 Cooks up to 15% faster than conventional convection ovens.
䊳 Most can be programmed with hundreds of recipes (with different cook stages) across all stores.
䊳 Built-in catalytic converters mean operators don’t need a ventilation system.
䊳 Metal cookware can be used inside the oven, even with microwaves.
When Not to Use One: Accelerated-cooking ovens are not ideal for cook-and-hold applications, nor any
ingredients or menu items cooked in batches.
Key Players: Amana AXP20; Merrychef 402S and EC503; TurboChef’s suite of accelerated-cooking ovens.
Price Range (list price): $6,000-13,000
TurboChef C3
How It Works: These ovens cook using steam, convection heat or a combination of the two. In the convection mode,
the oven circulates blasts of dry heat, ideal for pastries and breads. The steam mode injects water into the cabinet for
moist cooking. The combination mode uses both dry heat and steam to maintain exact humidity levels, keeping food
moist, reducing shrinkage of product and yielding consistent results time after time.
Key Features:
䊳 Once relegated to high-volume hotels or schools, new countertop models allow small retailers to try out the various
cooking applications of a combi oven.
䊳 Programmable with hundreds of recipes and multiple steps per recipe.
䊳 Most countertop models feature a boilerless injection system for steam, and some models, such as the Electrolux
Libero mini combi, requires no water or drain connections.
Electrolux Libero mini combi
When Not to Use One: Combis take time and manpower to master all the functionality, so a dedicated foodservice
manager should take on the project and properly train store-level employees. Cook times are longer in a combi, so it is not ideal for heat-to-order applications.
Key Players: Cleveland mini combi oven-steamer, Electrolux Libero Line mini combi
䊳 Cleveland mini features the following cooking modes: steam, hot air, slow cooking, Crisp and Tasty (de-moisturizing), combi, retherm and cook and hold.
䊳 Electrolux Libero mini combi features the following cooking modes: max steam, low steam, combi cooking, convection heat and cooling function (for
transitioning between cooking functions).
Price Range (list price): approximately $3,000-$10,000
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How It Works: Food travels horizontally through a heated cabinet on a conveyor belt.
Technology such as impingement heat delivers jets of hot air to the top and bottom
of the food.
Key Features:
䊳 New technology delivers faster bake times, a thoroughly baked
surface, improved texture and crisping, and higher yields with greater
moisture retention.
䊳 Conveyor ovens offer consistency, helpful in keeping food waste down.
䊳 Conveyor ovens are a familiar format and easy for store-level employees to run.
When Not to Use One: Conveyors are great for continuous output, when you have an employee
manning the oven at all times. If you don’t need continuous output, consider a smaller conveyor
toaster. They also take up more space than accelerated-cooking ovens and mini combis.
Key Players: Lincoln FastBake Impinger Oven; Savory’s Synergy Conveyor Toaster; TurboChef’s HhC2020
Price Range (list price; countertop models): approximately $4,000-9,000
Lincoln countertop Impinger FastBake Oven
The Right Cooking Method
DESSERTS: Prepare batches in a combi oven; heat individual orders in an
Products such as focaccia are made with oil, which helps keep the product
accelerated-cooking oven.
from drying out.
FRENCH FRIES: Deep fat fryers are never going away, but combi ovens are
HOT POCKETS: One 4-ounce Hot Pocket cooks in 10 minutes in a mini combi,
a good solution for operations without the manpower for complete oil/fryer
or two minutes, 15 seconds in an accelerated-cooking oven.
maintenance, or the necessary fire and safety precautions. This is especially
true if you are leaning toward a combi to complete other cooking tasks. A
ONION RINGS: One fry basket cooks in 5 minutes in a mini combi such as
combi oven can cook a batch of fries in 8 minutes.
the Convotherm; six pieces cook in one minute in an accelerated-cooking oven
such as the Merrychef.
TOASTED SUBS: Part of the decision is based on output and volume:
continuous heating vs. one-at-a-time. For example, Potbelly Sandwich Works,
HASHBROWN STICKS: A 12-piece batch cooks in 12 minutes in the mini
where all the subs are toasted, uses conveyor ovens; Subway, which has just
combi; a 6-ounce portion cooks in three minutes, 30 seconds in a Merrychef.
a few toasted subs on the menu, uses accelerated-cooking ovens. Labor is also
a factor. Conveyors require more hands-on labor to grab the sandwich off the
belt, while accelerated ovens are less automated, and require more technical
attention than a conveyor. Accelerated-cooking ovens often take less time
because it’s heating the sandwich within a self-contained cavity, whereas
conveyor ovens offer consistency sub after sub.
The conveyor sub will yield a drier, crisper sandwich due to the direct heat,
whereas accelerated-cooking ovens use microwave technology, “so you’re
actually aggravating the moisture molecules to create heat, keeping it moist,”
says Alison Cullin-Woodcock, corporate chef for Manitowoc. “It really depends
on what the gold standard is for the products you are going to serve.”
BREADS: Par-baked and thaw-and-serve bread products work well in mini
combis or accelerated-cooking ovens; it all depends on output speed
(accelerated-cooking ovens) vs. volume (combi ovens).
Also, look beyond the traditional roll or bun. Pita bread, naan and other
flatbreads are actually more forgiving that breads and rolls because they were
designed to stay moist and warm longer, and they’re very portable as well.
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Life-Cycle Costing and Equipment Financing
Life-cycle costing allows you to determine the total cost of operating a piece of equipment over its service life.
For example, if your existing conveyor oven costs $1,000 in kilowatt hours per year to operate and you buy a new oven for $5,000 that costs
$500 per year to operate, that’s a 10-year payback.
However, if you start offering breakfast sandwiches for the first time thanks to this new oven, your payback is that much faster because of the
new revenue channel it helped open.
Visit www.fishnick.com/saveenergy/tools/calculators for free life-cycle costing calculators.
In terms of the lifespan of your equipment, longer isn’t necessarily better. It depends on the type of operation you run and the frequency at which
your menu changes. For a commissary setting, long-lasting equipment (10 to 15 years) makes the most sense. For a small, on-site operation, “you’re
probably going to renovate that store in five years or so, because the market is going to change,” says Mike Matthies, project manager for Frank
Redmond Associates. “So for those kinds of operations, maybe don’t invest in the 10- to 15-year piece of equipment.”
Matthies tells people to amortize their capital investments over a three- to five-year period: “It’s pretty hard to amortize it in less than three years,
because it affects your profit and loss statement.” At the same time, “you don’t want to still be paying for stuff when it starts to break down.”
He also recommends putting money away so when the piece of equipment’s lifetime is up, money has already been accrued and you can buy the
new equipment and start amortizing it.
All Bases Covered
Questions to ask yourself and your equipment rep, from Alison
Cullin-Woodcock, corporate chef for Manitowoc Foodservice:
䊳 How much space will the equipment piece take up?
䊳 Can I stack the equipment if I am looking at a small space of
40 square inches or less?
䊳 Do I need water, power and/or a drain?
䊳 Do I need a stand, or will this fit on an existing counter?
䊳 Do I need extraction/ventilation?
䊳 Do I need extra cooling/freezing storage? Could I have a base
unit that doubled as a cooler/freezer and a stand for the oven?
Cooking Technology, Defined
䊳 What accessories come with the ovens? Do I need special
䊳 Air Impingement: The type of heat transfer often used in
pans, tools or trays?
conveyor ovens, particularly for the cooking of pizzas and subs. Air
jets direct columns of high-velocity, heated air perpendicular to the
food surface as the food travels through the oven on a wire mesh
conveyor. These “air fingers” that create the air flow are positioned
below and above the conveyor.
䊳 Catalytic converter: This converts the fumes created by an
oven into a less-harmful form. Having an oven equipped with a
catalytic converter eliminates the need for a ventilation system.
䊳 Combi Ovens: Ovens that cooks using steam, convection heat
or a combination of the two. In the convection mode, the oven
circulates blasts of dry heat around the cabinet. The steam mode
injects water into the oven for moist heat. The combination mode
uses both dry heat and steam to maintain exact humidity levels.
䊳 Convection: Baking technology that uses fans to force air
around the cooking cavity to ensure even cooking.
䊳 Microwaves: Used in accelerated-cooking ovens in tandem with
impinger heat and/or convection heat to cook the inside of products
for moist, even results.
䊳 What products might I want to cook, how am I am going to
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cook them and how often?
䊳 Will I cook and serve, or cook and hold?
䊳 If I cook and hold, do I have a holding or display case to
merchandise the food?
䊳 How easy is it to clean? What chemicals are needed, and how
do I buy them?
䊳 How easy is it to use? Can it be fully pre-programmed with
all my food recipes? Can it be locked to prevent staff from
tampering with it?
䊳 How much staff training will be necessary?
䊳 Who’s going to operate this cooking system? How tall are they?
Do I need to lower the base units (the average foodservice operator
is 5 feet 4 inches)?
䊳 What else can the equipment do for me?
Making the Most of Little Space
that route, we’d have to reoutfit the entire space (for a hood),” he says. “That
Prepared foods weren’t even a consideration for single-store retailer Greg
wouldn’t have been feasible for us.”
Horos when he opened Locali (above) in Los Angeles early last year. “Originally,
Locali’s funky, “conscious-convenience” menu features sandwiches such
we just wanted it to be a convenience store; we didn’t envision it being a deli
as The Franklin Phenomenon: turkey, Monterey jack, spinach, tomato and red
or prep area because we simply didn’t have the space,” he says of his 675-
onion slathered with chipotle sauce on a pretzel bun. The Log Cabin breakfast
square foot store. California’s strict ventilation regulations also deterred Horos
sandwich tops a butter croissant with smoked chicken, sliced apple, Swiss
from initially diving into foodservice.
cheese and maple syrup.
But, he thought, why not make up some sandwiches on a simple prep
In line with the store’s overall mission—Horos describes it as “if Whole
table? “And lo and behold, a month and a half in, we realized that our deli
Foods and 7-Eleven had a love child”—Locali’s cooking equipment has a
was the biggest part of our sales,” he says. “It’s almost 75% of our business.”
low environmental footprint. The oven is a “recycled” Anvil that Horos
The little kitchen is now equipped with a panini grill, a small range top
bought from a local company that refurbishes used commercial cooking
for soups, and a convection oven used to bake the few items that need it
equipment. “It’s less expensive, and it’s just very wasteful when it all goes
(such as the “bomb baked potatoes”)— all with no open flames. “If we went
to a junkyard,” he says.
䊳 To get the fastest ROI, look for equipment pieces that will perform multiple tasks throughout the day.
䊳 Think about where you want your foodservice program to be in the future, and purchase an oven than can adapt to evolving
䊳 Look at potential cooking equipment in tandem with other equipment pieces: Can you use an underused item more by adding
another piece of equipment?
䊳 Test-drive all cooking equipment before making a purchase. Test your foods as well as other menu items you hope to market in
the future.
January 2010