Locking Flavor and Freshness into Fast Food

The menu items that qualify as “fast” at family entertainment center food outlets didn’t get there just on the merits of quick prep and service.  A long series of steps that’s anything but fast pave the customer’s quick turnaround time from the restaurant table back to the fun. From the research into what items to provide to where to source them, from entrees to desserts, from kitchen equipment to menu board, the fast in fast food more aptly represents the fastidious clockwork, precision and efficiency of the overall operation. The outcome of sealing in freshness and flavor brings customers back for more of the same.
“It starts with having quality personnel, offering quality product and working with vendors for the best product and they are coming through for us to offer exceptional flavor to guests,” said Kevin Fitzpatrick, food and beverage director for iPlay America, Freehold, N.J.
Behind the scenes, maintenance of kitchen equipment is crucial. “No one piece is more important than any other. They’re all widely used due to the fact that we need all to work together, like a train. If one piece or car breaks down they all won’t work. So we keep all in shape, doing daily cleanings and monthly maintenance for good working condition and quality product.”
The fine-tuned kitchen services the three iPlay food venues, Sonny’s Boardwalk Grill for hotdogs, fries, funnel cake and refreshments, Mixx, a self-service frozen yogurt shop with the convenience of a Grab & Go service, featuring fresh salads, sandwiches, desserts and beverages, and Broadway Sweets candy store for homemade items from cookies to cotton candy to candy apples, brownies and parfaits.
Variety in sweets arise from brainstorming sessions, said Fitzpatrick, “Everyday someone brings ideas, for example, for the upcoming sleepovers, one for the Girl Scouts and another for the Boy Scouts, a pumpkin s’mores and hot apple cider nighttime snack popped in our heads.”
Another factor important to maintaining freshness is quantity. At iPlay, said Fitzpatrick, “We don’t go overboard on production on a daily basis, give ample space to showcase and everyday prepare new food offerings.”
You can’t get much faster than a buffet and at Gattitown Evansville Indiana Pizza and FEC, a smorgasbord of daily inspection criteria assures freshness of the 56-item salad bar, pizzas, pasta choices and desserts.
The single piece of kitchen equipment that handles most of the cooking is the three-tiered pizza oven. Daily routines of cleaning and weekly maintenance keep it churning out pizzas, vegetables and desserts needed to feed hungry customers.
Ingredients play a large role in Gattitown’s popularity. “The pizza is known for all the dough, made fresh daily, organic tomato sauce and Hormel meats,” said Kitchen and General Manager Kenny Kimbell. “Also provolone cheese is used instead of mozzarella because it tends to stick together better, makes crust crunchier and locks in flavor. The cheese is like a blanket on a bed, locking in warmth when you pull it up around you. And the pasta area has Alfredo Sauce, marinara, and meat sauce recipes created by the founder, Colonel Eure, over 40 years ago.”
Homemade cinnamon sticks, a cherry crisp dessert and Bavarian Cream dessert are consistent amongst all Gattitowns, though Kimbell came up with the S’mores pizza idea. “We tried it and customers came back a week later asking for it and that’s how it got started.”
If Jerry Barton, owner of Las Vegas Mini Gran Prix FEC, Las Vegas, Nev., was going to coax the families that storm his establishment for the rides out of the house for a meal too, he knew from a parent’s point of view, what would do it, repeatedly.
For pizza, only top-quality ingredients would do, he confirmed. “You won’t see customers dabbing a pepperoni pizza slice with a napkin because turkey pepperoni is used to eliminate the grease. Five kinds of cheese help cook the pizza longer without killing the cheese. Pizza with mozzarella gets black when done. You want to pick the right cheeses and best ingredients and have to be willing to pay for them.”
Barton said he searched the planet for the best ribs, which are already soaking in sauce to reheat when they arrive from US Foods. “The product they sell already cooked keeps us from having to over-sanitize the kitchen because it’s not raw, it’s cooked in huge volume and is quality controlled, the same product every time.”
Timeliness is achieved using double stacked conveyor ovens, for food placed in one end and out the other.  “We cook 200 pizzas an hour and maintain it well as is everything in the park. The ovens are very reliable if you watch them and we maintain 99 percent ourselves.”
Also a top consideration for all food categories is healthiness, and customers are offered a choice of soda, juice or smoothies, made with fresh fruit. Recalled Barton, “We experimented with smoothies for years, making them one at a time. Now they’re super easy to make, all at one time. Mango is especially popular and we hear comments that our food is healthy and not greasy.”
Essential to maintaining freshness and flavor served at the Medina Entertainment Center and Robert’s Restaurant & Bar, Medina, Minn., said Front of House Manager Mark Foley, is to keep an eye on quantities and not prepare too much food ahead of time and also to keep food rotating.
Consistent with that philosophy is the need to keep the cooler in top running condition for food storage. “We do routine maintenance and also do checks to hold the temperature where it should be,” remarked Foley.
Receiving esteemed refrigerated space are the dessert selections. Though they can be sporadic as to individual choice, said Foley, “Overall sales don’t fluctuate. Desserts are very consistent.” In fact, the flavor choices are spread out to not always center around the highly regarded chocolate torte, rather to level out the options amongst banana crème pie, key lime pie and ice cream for sundaes. Desserts at times can be very sporadic. “We make sure we have different flavors and rotate items. When we have a menu change, we change sweets, too.”
The quarter pounder and chicken tenders, nachos, fried pickles, chicken sticks and mini corn dogs offered to consumers at Great Balls of Fire FEC in McAlester, Okla., are the best money can buy, said Chef Brandon Serletic. And to top off a meal, customer demand dictates. “Everyone loves funnel cakes, which sell like hot cakes, turtle ice cream bars and Neapolitan ice cream sandwiches.
The kitchen work horses that carry the brunt of the cooking load for both the family-owned Angel’s Diner or Angel’s Wing in the Great Balls of Fire bowling alley are the grill and fryer and to keep them cooking and in optimal condition, it’s a daily task of filtering the fryers and cleaning the grill. “That way, Serletic said, “Everyday we come in, it’s like working on new equipment..” –

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