FRESH FOOD: Prepared Food Case Study: Food fight

The prepared food program at upscale urban grocer Garden of Eden Gourmet Market probably has more competition from takeout food providers hawking a vast array of options within a tight block or two of its Manhattan locations than most grocers have for miles around. Thus, the market offers 60 to 80 prepared foods daily, and its food preparation equipment has to stand up to the challenge in terms of efficiency and flexibility. To serve its five high-volume locations, Garden of Eden has gone with a state-of-the-art central kitchen.

The kitchen, a 5,000-square-foot operation in Manhattan, provides each of Garden of Eden's five stores -- four in New York City and one just across the Hudson River in Hoboken, N.J. -- with freshly prepared food daily. It's filled with a myriad of sophisticated equipment sporting many different cooking capabilities. Garden of Eden staffs the kitchen with over 35 employees, including highly skilled chefs with diverse culinary expertise.

But it wasn't always so well equipped. The retailer built up to its current system, with a combi-oven as the centerpiece, over years of steady growth and a solid collaborative effort with Eaton, Ohio-based equipment supplier Henny Penny and the manufacturer's distributor, Global Food Service Solutions (GFSS).

Major upgrade

In the early years of its existence, Garden of Eden did its best with what Mustafa Mvoskun, the retailer's owner and president, says was "standard cooking equipment." However, "after five years in operation, we wanted better performance and a more sophisticated technology. Our cooking equipment was integral in this quest," he notes.

The grocer set out to perform a major upgrade, searching for the right combination of equipment that could run with increased speed and reliability, while simultaneously producing the high-quality fare Garden of Eden had built its reputation on. Besides a large prepared food assortment, the stores, each averaging 10,000 square feet, feature an abundant fresh produce department and a complete bakery offering fresh breads, in addition to departments providing meats, fish, and more than 300 varieties of cheese. The gourmet independent also specializes in delicacies such as paté and environmentally sound caviar.

The distributor suggested Mvoskun look into improving his kitchen's capabilities with advanced cooking technology that would not only increase efficiency, but also minimize downtime, thereby improving his overall cost structure. The vendor recommended Henny Penny.

In deciding to invest in Henny Penny equipment, Mvoskun "saw an opportunity to make a substantial improvement in quality and customer service," says GFSS president Tom Jakab, who adds that Mvoksun quickly made the decision to "switch the growing, upscale grocery chain's future over to the improved technology."

"We looked at what they had to offer, and we liked them very much," says Mvoskun. It was the beginning of a business relationship that has now spanned over a decade, and continues as Garden of Eden incrementally upgrades its food preparation operation.

In all, Garden of Eden has purchased four types of Henny Penny food equipment, beginning with an ESC-615 SmartCombi oven, which features Advanced Steam Technology that promotes even steam cooking without a boiler, filterless grease extraction, and an auto-reverse fan. The SmartCombi also features WaveClean self-cleaning technology, which employs a two-in-one cleaner/rinse cartridge. Next came Henny Penny's SCR-6 rotisserie oven with Therma-Vec even-heat technology, which combines infrared heating with cross-flow convection to produce evenly cooked foods. The SCR-6 also offers programmable computer controls.

Extending the upgrade to store level, Garden of Eden turned to Henny Penny's line of custom display merchandisers.

The retailer selected Henny Penny's PFG-600 pressure fryer, which includes automatic load compensation, 10 programmable cook cycles, and a built-in filtration system that extends the use of shortening. Jakab says Henny Penny's "industry-leading pressure fryers" allow for faster cooking at lower temperatures, which seals in the moisture and flavor of products such as fried chicken.

The infusion of equipment had to be accompanied by staff training, but according to Mvoskun, "The intuitive nature of the equipment and the technical support provided by Henny Penny" kept the training challenge manageable. "Each line of the equipment is easy to use, so it didn't take long for our chefs to adapt."

Consistent quality

Mvoskun says that after the transition period, the Henny Penny equipment afforded Garden of Eden new freedom in the cooking process. "We use the combi-oven for baking, steaming, cooking, and roasting," he notes. "Now nearly everything that comes out of our commissary [hails] from the combi-oven. It is one of the best products we use. We can cook fish, meat, and vegetables all at the same time, and the quality of the food is consistently high."

In addition to the improved food quality, production times are also "much faster than...with our previous equipment," observes Mvoskun. He adds that since the Henny Penny equipment has been up and running, Garden of Eden has enjoyed a "sustained increase in total productivity, and reduced shrinkage that is down 20 percent."
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