How the Right Kitchen Equipment Keeps FEC Kitchens Cooking

The kids are packed in the car and the family is on their way. Friends are meeting up for a night of bowling, arcade games and laser tag. In any scenario, family entertainment center owners and managers know what patrons want when heading out for hours of entertainment. Without fail, what is anticipated is fun, and sustenance in the tradition of eating on the run, and then back to the fun.
The actual food is the final step in the progression toward the customer’s eating pleasure. Critical to this customer satisfaction is the right kitchen equipment, properly maintained, so servers can concentrate on maintaining quality customer service – fast.
For the unique FEC environment, said Scott Berryman, regional manager for one of the Going Bonkers locations in Quincy, Ill., the right fit is essential. “We’re not fast food, but like to get food out quickly and assure it’s hot. We don’t use heat lamps, make all fresh items and take them out immediately, so the proper equipment helps get food out in a timely manner for orders as they come in.”
A Vulcan side-by-side oven works great for the biggest job of churning out pizzas for the Going Bonkers crowds, said Berryman. And on weekends, kitchen staff crank up the second of two fryers. Rounding out the full kitchen equation is a griddle top for burgers, a convection oven for fresh baked cookies and the prep units.
All have been running well since the FEC opened in December of 2000. Berryman attributes a preventive daily maintenance regimen to equipment longevity. “We boil out the fryers, make sure burners are clean on ovens, periodically disassemble and power wash them outside to remove cheese and any other kind of food build up, and reassemble. They last longer and bake nicer.”
Reliable equipment is a must at Volcano Falls Adventure Park, Loves Park, Ill., said Assistant Manager Craig Howard, especially to keep the marathon of Saturday birthday parties that go strong from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. straight going and running smoothly. The Holman pizza oven that delivers on the pies is not large, yet it is just what is needed alongside the small nachos and hot dog roller and soft serve machine.
Cleaning all the machinery by hand with brushes every day has contributed to it lasting as long as it has, said Howard, who is familiar with the types of mechanisms that can falter. In his general maintenance work in the area, he often replaces timers that won’t shut off.
If John Sarantakis, president of The Peoples Choice Family Fun Center, Waukegan, Ill., makes any equipment changes in the kitchen, it’s to upgrade or meet increased demand, not to replace for mechanical problems. “We sell food inexpensively, keep our food expenses low and volume high, 40 percent of profits coming from food. We do normal maintenance on equipment, continuously wiping things down to keep it all clean.”
Sarantakis is very pleased with the Middleby Marshall conveyor oven he had first noticed at an IAPPA show. It was the right choice for the FEC because after trying it out at the Middleby facility he was sold on its performance and how the pizza turned out.  “The Middleby conveyor oven presses the pizza, it’s put in one end and comes out the other, and it is set at the right temperature. On other ovens, the timing has to be set and pizzas pulled or they burn. This works well because one person can put the pizzas in and then work the fryers, and he doesn’t have to be standing over the pizza oven. It’s perfect, simple, hassle-free and helps in getting the product out.”
The two self-contained Perfect Fry deep fryer units in use for the last four years have doubled the output as needed, and Sarantakis is pleased with the operational efficiencies. Using the equipment, food that is placed inside a trap door drops in the fryer basket. The operator then sets how long to cook it and once finished, the basket auto-lifts and dumps the food out.  Additionally, no hood is needed and the fire prevention unit is enclosed, pushing hot air out.
Now that capacity has outgrown the current fryer, it will be upgraded to a larger unit, the same as those used in McDonald’s restaurants. These fryers feature an automated lift, a clean oil filtration system and a self-contained hood, so duct work does not have to go through the ceiling and roof.
The next oven Sarantakis plans to upgrade to is Middleby’s WOW model. “It’s their newest energy efficient model and cooks faster. What took five minutes is sliced to three and a half minutes, so it saves energy and time.”
He, like others, has experienced problems that arise with cooling equipment rather than cooking equipment. Several years ago, he recalled, a soft serve ice cream machine and syrup system became a maintenance nightmare with plumbing issues, causing him to switch to a unit that takes up more space.
The advantage of having the right equipment for the FEC facility and maintaining it properly, said Eric Locasha, manager at Kristof’s Entertainment Center, located in Round Lake Beach, Ill., is that the product outcome is better and equipment lasts longer.
“Though not serving fast food per se, the objective is turning out food quickly,” said Locasha, and all that’s needed for the one restaurant on the premises is one fryer, which is wiped down nightly and has oil changed weekly, both requirements because grease builds up substantially after a 12-hour day.
After nine seasons of providing guests with tasty options at the newly renamed restaurant in Jack’s House, Brainerd, Minn., Shirley’s Classic Grille, owner, Kevin Lawrence, has only had to imagine worse-case scenarios. “As a bowling alley, we do a fair amount of food business. There’s nothing worse than being caught during dinner rush with a piece of equipment down. With good equipment that is kept clean, there’s no downtime, and less money is spent going to repairs.”
The workhorses are a Vulcan flattop and broiler, Dean fryer, and Southbend convection oven. For equipment longevity, said Lawrence, equipment is kept clean, inside and out. “Occasionally we have to clean where the heating elements are. It’s all run by gas. Pilot lights get splattered and gummed up.”
As to problems that can arise on the cooling side, Lawrence is familiar with coolers that leak freon or have motors go out.
“At times, in a tight kitchen, cooling equipment doesn’t have enough space for a decent stream of air to cool and compressors have to work harder,” said Larry Corson, general manager for Pinz, Oakdale, Minn. However, the cooking equipment that turns out food with timeliness and consistency for diners of Harvey’s American Pub within Pinz is the flattop in use and Lincoln Impinger oven.
Careful maintenance is a must, said Corson. “We clean equipment daily, caring for it like a baby. It simply makes life working in the FEC kitchen easier when equipment runs correctly. With quality equipment we produce quality product with consistency.” –

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