Replacing a kitchen is not something you consider every day. When margins are being squeezed in every area of the business it can be hard to see how spending a five or six-figure-sum on new kit will have an immediate effect on your profit margins.
For some, however, like Kevin Love, head chef at The Hinds Head in Bray, overhauling the kitchen is essential, not only to enable the business to develop, but to help save money in the longer term, raise staff morale and make the business more attractive to future chefs.
The pub, owned by Heston Blumenthal, is currently closed for a two week refurbishment that will cost the business hundreds of thousands of pounds, but which will enable Love’s team to use the space more effectively and work in what he believes will be ‘one of the best kitchens around’.
“The kitchen really needs doing,” says Love. “It is coming up eight years old and we’d replaced little bits here and there, but never had a full refurbishment. It was looking tired and we were spending a lot out on repairs – we were just plastering over the cracks - plus we needed a bit more space too, which is why it was best to do the whole thing.”
The pub’s kitchen also doubles up as the Fat Duck’s valuable stock-making facility, so with pans holding 75 litres of stock taking up space, Love was keen to re-configure the kitchen to give everyone their own area to work in.
As the building is protected, extending the kitchen is not an option, so Love and his kitchen designer were forced to look at the space they did have. They made the decision to turn the beer cellar behind the kitchen into a stock kitchen, keeping it separate from the main work area and creating a new section for Love’s team.
Love’s decision to install new induction ovens by Menu Systems has also freed up yet more space. “The kit around now, the way it has evolved – the induction is amazing,” he says. “It’s not only going to be more energy efficient, but we have effectively doubled our prep surface, because you only use the hob you need and heat is instant when you turn it on.
“Before with the old equipment, you’d have to turn the hobs on early in the morning to get the heat right for service, so not only was that less energy efficient and created a hot kitchen, but we also had less space for prep. The kitchen is going to be a much nicer environment to work in now.”
When to do it
There are two sensible times to think about spending out on an entire refit of your kitchen – when you take over a new site and the existing facilities are not adequate, or when your existing equipment becomes too old and inefficient for your business, as Love found. Of course, if you have the cash and fancy upgrading your kitchen with the latest kit then sensible doesn’t need to enter into the equation.
Chef Glynn Purnell fell into the ‘taking over a new site’ category when he moved his second restaurant Asquith’s from Edgbaston to Birmingham city centre last year.
The 6,500sqft site on Newhall Street had formerly been a dim sum bar and restaurant, so the chefs working in Purnell’s French-inspired would evidently need different kit to do their jobs.
Purnell, who spent £150,000 on changing the entire restaurant, chose Electrolux Professional to supply The Asquith mark II with its equipment having worked with the company at his first restaurant Purnell’s.
“The innovation and reliability offered by their equipment has helped me to drop temperatures in the kitchen and to enable quicker productivity to a higher quality," he says.
The chef opted for Electrolux Professional's 700XP modular cooking range, designed with those all-important space-saving features in mind and which included high-tech kit such as a the air-o-steam touchline combi-oven, a power grill, convection oven and ref-freezer base.
The installation was completed with refrigeration, a 'clean and green' dishwasher, a Dynamic Prep slicer and 5 litre mixer. Purnell says having shiny new kit is not only exciting and more efficient, but it also means his team are free to be more creative rather than potentially spending time trying to work around broken or inefficient kit.
“Crucially, the team will be able to save time and money without compromising on reliability, leaving us to concentrate on producing high-quality dishes that meet the expectations of our customers. For me, that will be invaluable,” he adds.
Out with the old
Some businesses change owners before equipment is out of date, but if you are one of the lucky ones and trade remains good for several years, there will come a stage when the kit you installed at the start, or you inherited will no longer be able to cope with the demands of your success.
Almost two years ago, Franco’s, which had been serving Italian food from its Jermyn Street site in London for 60 years, was at that point.
Director and company owner Jason Phillips had decided it was time to redesign and refocus the whole business to better cater for an eclectic and growing customer base. He wanted to be able to serve traditional English breakfasts in the morning and Italian dishes at lunch and in the evenings. He also felt it was time to replace the adjoining coffee shop with a more modern bar-café.
“The restaurant had been around for a long time and needed some life breathing into it,” he says. “There was a lot of wasted space, and, as trade increased, this only served to make daily operations that much more difficult.”
The kitchen was the last area of the business to be changed during the five-year refurbishment, but it was one of the most important and couldn’t be left as it was if the business was going to move forward.
“We had a modular cooking suite in there, which you could move around to clean,” says Phillips, “but it was old and a lot of time was spent with it inactive while it was being repaired. We needed greater reliability.”
Because of the varying demands on the kitchen from an increasingly busy venue, Phillips needed something heavy duty, so he opted for the Montague Legend cooking suite from Imperial - 'a far cry' from the old modular suite the kitchen had used for several years previously.
The suite comprises a pasta cooker, two twin Bullseye ranges with ovens, open star fired burners, ambient work surfaces and a flat-top griddle section with ambient storage cupboards below - in effect catering for all styles of cooking Phillips' chefs would need to be doing and more efficiently too.
He says: "With an increase in the volume of business, we needed additional firepower, which is what we got with the Montague suite. One chef said he was getting up to 250 degrees before, but with the new fired burners, he is reaching 400 degrees, cutting the time it used to do many tasks."
"The Montague Legend suite, overall is reliable, robust, efficient and its doors are guaranteed for life - a far cry from what we had."
How to do it
The key to a successful refit, according to the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA) which represents 160 catering equipment companies, is to employ a holistic approach.
Although it might be tempting to pick out your dream piece of kit and let everything else fit around it, you should think about how your new kitchen will work on a practical level and consider how the kitchen will work at different times of the day.
“For example, most traffic before lunch service may be from stores to the cooking area, whereas during service there will be plenty to the warewashing area. The kitchen needs to be able to handle it all,” says CESA chair Mick Shaddock.
Don't forget too that although you might wish to use the opportunity of refurbishment to completely change the lay-out of your kitchen, equipment will still need to be hooked up to power, water and waste services.
“A common complaint from project managers of major new builds and refits is that the kitchen services – water, ventilation, power and waste – sometimes get forgotten about until the rest of the project is well under way, by which time there may be issues of access. So be sure that the services are taken into account, right at the start," advises Shaddock.
Despite employing someone to oversee the whole project at the Hinds Head, while his kitchen is being revamped Love is planning to be on site to deal with any of those problems should they arise
“I've been working closely with the designer, and we've gone through it all, but I’m there every day in case there are any questions that need answering and to point out where the electrical points are, that kind of thing,” he says.
"It's going to be fantastic. I'm really looking forward to seeing the boys and girls cooking in that new kitchen in a couple of weeks."