Toasters: The Unsung Heroes of the Kitchen


Toasters are the unsung heroes of the kitchen — churning out finished product around the clock at coffee shops, bagel kiosks, casual-dining restaurants, institutional settings and self-service kitchens.

“Everybody has them,” says Paul Leclerc, sales manager for Serve-Canada Food Equipment Ltd. in Toronto. “They’re just one of those commodity items.” But toaster choices should not be taken lightly. Reliability, size, output (slices per hour), types of control (digital versus analog) and energy consumption all play a part in the selection process.

The conveyor style toaster is the dominant model in the industry for high-capacity needs. A mainstay for decades, conveyor toasters have evolved to become sleeker, more energy-efficient machines that can produce up to 1,000 slices of toast per hour and range in price from $700 to $7,000, depending on the output, features, size and functions.

Russ Bellerose has spent more than three decades in the toaster business and played a key role in new product design and development for a number of companies, including 20 years with Holman. He says conveyors have come a long way from the “old, energy consuming clunkers” that were around in the mid-1900s. “They used to be 100 lb. units with big steel bar tracks. Nobody cared about safety, heat output or energy consumption — and they could barely produce a couple hundred slices per hour,” says Bellerose, who is currently president of Belleco, Inc. in Saco, Maine.

Today’s models are much more streamlined and productive, made of lighter materials (e.g. stainless steel versus heavier steel for the track bars) and consume a fraction of the power they used to, he notes. One key technology that moved the category forward was the introduction of cooling fans that bring air into the machine from the outside and circulate it between the inner and outer walls without the use of insulation while moving out the hot air. This expedites the toasting process and increases production in a smaller footprint, while improving safety.

Perhaps the biggest change in conveyors in recent years is the increased capacity and element options. The main elements of choice are metal sheath (a.k.a. calrods) or quartz. Pricing for either is similar. While calrods are more durable and less prone to damage, quartz is 10 per cent more energy efficient and heats up much more quickly.

Some newer systems have automatic shut-off features that can be retriggered with a pre-set timer, Bellerose explains. “That’s a nice premium feature. In the near future we can expect to see them turn on to full power automatically when they detect a slice on the entry rack and hit full production in seconds without delay.”

The one caveat with conveyors is they tend to get hot, Leclerc says. “Some now have cool- touch features so users don’t burn themselves.”

Most models today also have energy-conservation modes, enabling users to put the systems on standby when not in use, Leclerc adds.

Energy consumption is an issue that is increasingly important for operators like Steve Michalopoulos, vice-president, Brand Development for Chairman’s Brands in Toronto. Its Eggsmart restaurants are equipped with Holman QCS2-800 systems from Star Manufacturing International Inc. priced between $1,400 and $1,600. Each unit features a burn guard and cool-to-touch exterior.

While capacity continues to be a number-1 factor in making his choices, Michalopoulos says energy efficiency is moving up the list. “Hydro bills aren’t getting any lower. It’s similar to investing in lighting. You want something more energy efficient.” Reliability and quality also matter, given that toasters are running constantly. “We typically don’t expect to get more than seven years out of each one.”

Alex Zilberberg, president of The Bagel Stop in Toronto, says the company recently switched to Holman QCS2-600H high output conveyor toasters, which can process up to 600 slices per hour at its 21 locations. Each unit costs around $1,200 and measures 14.5″ W x 22” D and 15.5″ H. Heat shields are installed around each toaster for added safety at an additional cost of $600 per unit. “Every outlet has one or two depending on its size and the volume needed.”

Having used conveyors since the company started in 1987, Zilberberg says new models use less energy and are safer for workers. He estimates the lifecycle at about six or seven years. When choosing a supplier, Zilberberg says, “It all comes down to reliability and service. In our business, 99 per cent of everything customers order is toasted. Toasters are an integral part of our operations.”

Vancouver-based A&W Food Services of Canada Inc. has Hatco Toast-Qwik ITQ 1000 units for all its new sites and replacement units. Tyler Pronyk, director, Distribution, Equipment & Packaging says the units can toast bread products at a consistent speed of 35 seconds. “We’ve worked with many brands over the years,” Pronyk says. “Hatco is a great partner because of the quality, reliability and customer service they bring to the table.”

The prevalence of conveyors for the big jobs doesn’t mean pop-up style toasters have no place in foodservice settings. Industrial-grade models can be a valuable asset for lower volume, smaller footprint and/or self-service areas. Not to mention, they use far less energy than a conveyor, Leclerc notes. “With pop-ups you’re only consuming power when you’re actually using the toasters, while conveyors typically run all day. Some operators will use a combination of a conveyor toaster for peak times and a pop-up toaster for slower periods.”

Pop-up toasters can produce anywhere from 200 slices per hour up to 1,000 or higher and cost $300 to $2,000. Heavier duty toaster models require dedicated wiring and outlets. Typically, pop-up toasters use ceramic elements, although Waring has recently introduced a mica element, which extends the longevity of the appliance (up to three times the cycles compared to typical commercial brands, according to manufacturers’ claims), Leclerc reports.

Last, but certainly not least, on the toaster roster are vertical contact toasters, which have the specific job of toasting buns within 20 seconds. As the name suggests, rather than using radiant heat, buns make contact with the surface and are sealed as they go through so they don’t absorb grease. “McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s — they’re all using contact toasters,” Bellerose says. “It’s a huge market.”

Whether opting for conveyor, pop-up or contact, toasters are here for the long haul. And, while they may not offer the cachet of other kitchen equipment, they’re an appliance operators count on to do the job right.

Issue 48, Number 8

Written By: Denise Deveau

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