There’s nothing like having a clean slate to work from when choosing equipment for your restaurant operations. Whether it’s a new build, an expansion, or an upgrade, there are plenty of options to consider when putting together an equipment wish list.
In some cases, it’s a matter of building on experience to find just the right solutions. In others, it may represent a chance to make up for past mistakes. Or it could be a prime opportunity to finally invest in a technology you’ve had your eye on for some time.
Here are some samplings of operators who have taken their new-found budgets to get what they really, really want.
Strange Love seeks the ultimate coffee experience
Chris Nguyen’s quest for a coffee machine was a labour of love — and perseverance. In searching for a system, the co-owner of Strange Love Coffee in Toronto, was seeking a system that would stand out in the competitive world of coffee shops. He opted for a custom-built, hand crafted two-brew system from Italy-based Dalla Corte for $23,000 that features advanced digital controls, internet connectivity and an integrated intelligent grinder.
“The fundamental problem everyone is trying to solve in specialty espresso and espresso-based coffee drinks is consistency,” he says. “We wanted to solve that with machinery and technology.”
The integration with the grinder is a key element of the system, he notes. A connecting data cable allows the grinder to “talk” to the espresso machine, creating a feedback loop on everything from grinding times to fineness. “This allows the barista to pull shots according to a precise specific recipe that is programmed in and lets them know if anything needs adjustment,” he says. Nguyen also collects and compiles the metadata from the system for further analysis, even using it to consult with international operators to get their input.
Another integrated feature is the $10,000 Cirqua water system that goes beyond simple filtration to include a formulation cartridge that actually adds essential elements such as minerals, magnesium and calcium specifically suited to different types of coffee. “We can localize water to the country of the roaster,” Nguyen says. “The water formulation can be tailored based on what coffee we bring in whether it’s Australia, the UK or Sweden.”
Ricarda’s gets a facelift
At Ricarda’s in downtown Toronto, the opportunity to revamp its equipment came early in 2017 when it went through a major refresh. According to Chris Glaessel, COO, the multi-million dollar renovation included some brand new equipment for its live-cooking areas, production kitchen and baking operations.
The overhaul budget included $350,000 in new equipment — over and above what was already in place — plus $130,000 for shipping and installation.
The newly upgraded live-cooking counters now feature a pasta cooker, two induction cooktops and under-the-counter refrigeration. (Each station cost approximately $25,000.) The key for that area, Glaessel says, is everything had to be flexible enough to switch over when needed. “We didn’t focus on brand so much. We just wanted to get a good set of basic equipment that we know works well.”
The main kitchen features new salamanders, a deep fryer, flat-top grill, a 10-burner pasta stove, two circulators from Illinois-based Sammic for sous-vide cooking and lots of under-the-counter refrigerators and freezers. “The chiller and refrigeration systems are actually small, in keeping with our just-in-time delivery principle,” he says.
The bakery is home to two new proofers, a countertop dough sheeter and a three-deck oven that can simultaneously provide rear heat, high heat and steam.
With the must-haves in place, Glaessel says he is now ready to move to the want-to-haves, which include top-of-the-line Pacojet, Vitamix and Thermomix appliances.
As far as key attributes for equipment, he puts multi-functionality at the top of the list. “The next is operability. More and more equipment has digital screens that allow you to pre-program cooking times and temperatures so even lower-skilled labour can produce [food] more effectively. There’s also a lot of innovation on the energy efficiency and size, which is great for smaller operators with limited kitchen space.”
Modularity is important, he adds. “If we rebuilt again, I would make things more modular.”
Humber takes a modular approach
Rudi Fischbacher, associate dean of the School of Hospitality, Recreation and Tourism at Humber College in Toronto, had his chance to shop for the latest-and-greatest with the addition of a new culinary lab and two baking labs. A particular innovation of note is the Halton kitchen distribution system that features quick-connect capabilities for both gas and electric units.
“Because everything is on wheels, the power centre gives us the flexibility to roll equipment in and out and makes everything easy to clean,” he explains. “With the quick-connect switch, there are no power issues. Also, if we need new equipment, we don’t need to renovate the entire kitchen to accommodate it. Anything that needs power can be on the same line and can be wheeled in or out or rearranged. It’s great for commercial or institutional kitchens such as long-term care or hospitals because you don’t have to spend a lot of money on renovating or ripping up power lines.”
It also invested in a new $80,000+ Halton ventilation system connected to the internet and can be operated remotely and monitored by the school or the vendor. While it’s an on-demand system, there is also a manual override when needed.
All labs have a central refrigerator/freezer space running off a single compressor, which saves space and energy. Roll-in blast chillers have also been added in each area. A new addition in the baking lab is a fully programmable, Picard rotating hybrid oven that can do steam injection for large-volume bread production. Large dough volumes are also handled by a new Kemper hydraulic mixer from East Germany. “You can mix anything up to 160 kilograms in one shot,” Fischbacher says.
A Salva deck oven and Doyon Quad convection featuring steam injection round out the inventory in the baking labs. There’s also a new Wiesheu (Germany) unit that combines a proofing unit and a convection chamber. “Each lab has a different piece of commercial-baking equipment so students can learn everything,” he explains, adding that it has also configured items to enable access for people with disabilities.
An interesting add-on feature is the all-new Dyson hand-wash sink systems with built-in hand dryers. “It’s great for food safety and sanitation,” Fischbacher says. “It has also cut down our paper usage by 85 per cent, which is a big sustainability plus.”
Ruth’s Chris ups the ante
When Ruth’s Chris Steak House’s Toronto airport location launched in November 2017, the franchisor had a sizeable shopping list on its hands. According to Jesse Melbye, general manager, much of the essential equipment such as refrigeration systems (True, Delfield and Perlick in the kitchen and bar areas for the most part) and stoves (Baltimore-based Vulcan) have been standardized. But that didn’t stop them from exploring some additional options that would suit the 280-plus-seat restaurant.
One was the Nespresso Aguila 220 commercial coffee system in the service area. “They only launched it a few months ago, but it’s a great machine for espresso and cappuccino making,” Melbye says. “Not only is the dispensing fully automated, ensuring consistency throughout the day, it has a self-cleaning feature that alerts servers every 24 hours. We don’t have to monitor it. It just tells us when to push the button, otherwise it won’t operate.”
Throughout the facility, it uses Hydro-Safe water filtration systems for the prep areas and ice machines, plus a Q water system for dispensing water for the guests.
The “stars of the show” according to Melbye, are two Montague single-deck broiler/convection ovens with ceramic panels that distribute heat evenly and consistently. Each of the systems cost $50,000. The units’ claim to fame is that they can broil steaks at 1800°F, as well as cook from the bottom up. “These are the single most important pieces of equipment in our kitchens and have been tweaked by the founder to suit our needs.” Even the dishwashing area has some noteworthy additions. For example, there’s a dedicated glass washer from Minnesota-based Ecolab, as well as a food digester from Kansas City-based Salvajor that breaks down food scraps into a liquid that can be safely returned to the municipal water system.
For Jason Sussman, chef/owner of Tacofino in Tofino, B.C., success is all about being flexible and keeping it small. With a fleet of food trucks, as well as a growing number of quick-service and sit-down restaurants, he’s always on the lookout for equipment.
“We do quite a large volume out of the food trucks. Sometimes equipment has to be a bit narrower to accommodate the space” he says. Appliances are typically propane powered. The easiest approach is to buy a food truck that is fully installed, he adds. Typically he looks to suppliers from California, Texas or Oregon. Costs can range from $35,000 for a used system to $120,000 for a new one.
His configuration of choice includes a large flat-top griddle, a two-basket fryer, steam table, under-the-counter fridges and a heating/warming oven.
As he expands his quick-serve and sit-down restaurants, key purchases will include energy-efficient fryers from Pitco and a Rational oven. “The oven makes life easier because it does a lot of things like smoking, baking and circulating,” he says.
He also has an eye on a wood-burning grill from Wood Stone for approximately $25,000 for his newest restaurant venture.
Written by Denise Deveau