French manufacturer Charvet’s heavy duty bespoke cooking suites have long being regarded as the must-have accessory of elite culinary establishments and chefs with unlimited budgets. But the launch of a new entry-level modular range is poised to change the game completely and make the brand accessible to more of the market. FEJ finds out why it’s time for restaurant chains and multiples to sit up and take notice.
The Charvet story is quite a simple one to tell. Founded 80 years ago in the picturesque Rhone-Alpes region of southwest France, the family-owned business made its name building robust and heavy duty cooking suites for restaurants in its homeland. Gaining a reputation for high quality construction, the company’s sales grew and orders soon came in from further afield.
Although its factory has embraced more automated processes of late, its craftsmanship and hand-built approach to manufacturing has endeared the brand to chefs and institutions far and wide, and even led to some dubbing it the ‘Rolls-Royce’ of the cooking suite world.
Charvet Premier Ranges, the company’s UK business, is now in its 18th year, during which time it has predominantly focused on the restaurant market.
Managing director, Wayne Cuomo, says the company has always sought to play to the strengths of the market. “It is quite interesting because when I first came across Charvet modular equipment in France, it was known more in the institutional market while the traditional Charvet bespoke was always what went into French a la carte restaurants,” he explains. “We turned that on its head in the UK; we started selling the modular into the restaurant trade, where it was very much chef-driven, and the bigger restaurants or the ‘show kitchens’ had the bespoke. The Dorchester has still got a 28-year old Charvet bespoke suite in it that is still going strong!”
Charvet now has ranges that cover all aspects of cooking equipment, from induction hobs, planchas and griddles to fryers, pasta boilers and ovens. Its latest product is a heavy duty salamander that can achieve an impressive 400°C in just nine seconds or 570°C after 15 minutes’ use. The portfolio consists of its flagship Pro 800, 900 and 1000 series, as well as the Aerogam range, featuring cooking modules built on 400mm legs, making it easy to clean underneath and providing an alternative to the cantilevered configuration.
Two years ago it introduced the compact Pro 700 series, which has added an extra dimension to its offering. “It is still heavy duty, but it is especially useful in places where kitchen space is at a premium,” says Cuomo. “Alan Bird, who was the executive chef at The Ivy when he was at Caprice Holdings, has a 700 series for his Bird of Smithfield restaurant, for example. It is a very compact kitchen and he is doing 200 covers a day off it.”
Now, the brand has gone one step further — literally — by launching the Charvet One series, a truly modular range of 800mm equipment for caterers that need a short-term investment return but who still require powerful, robust and reliable equipment for a wide menu choice.
FEJ editor, Andrew Seymour, met up with Wayne Cuomo in London to ask why the Charvet One series might make a good fit for multi-site operators and what makes it different from its existing ranges…
What prompted the company to develop the Charvet One line?
We felt there was a need for a product that is applicable to a wider range of kitchens. It is not a value engineered range, but a more price-competitive range whereby we have taken off some of the bells and whistles and made it less customisable. There are many kitchens that would love to have a Charvet but would walk away from it without even looking because of the perception that it is too expensive. Now, many of those kitchens can look at Charvet and say, ‘there would be an advantage in putting that in’.
You say you have removed some of the bells and whistles. What sort of things have gone?
We have done away with the branding nameplates, fancy flues and colours to provide an easily-assembled, simple-to-install and powerful cooking range. A lot of back-of-house operations where the kitchen is not really on view don’t need pretty colours or nice rounded edges. They just want basic workhorse kit, which is powerful, heavy duty and offers longevity but suits a budget.
It is not a value engineered range, but a more price-competitive range whereby we have taken off some of the bells and whistles”
Have you had to make any compromises in terms of performance or durability?
No. For instance, all the control knobs are made from a zamac zinc aluminium alloy, so you will never melt a Charvet knob; they might get hot but they will never melt. The oven doors are the same design as the other series in terms of the hinging. In fact they aren’t hinges — there is an axel bar that runs through the bottom of the door and into the chassis either side and as the door opens it butts onto this.
If a kitchen porter opens the oven door to use as a step to clean the hood it will withstand the pressure the same way as all other Charvets do! There are a lot of design elements that are already in the other series and which continue through into the Charvet one, but at a price more suitable for the more popular foodservice budgets.
Many chain operators are in the business of refreshing their cooking equipment every five to seven years, sometimes less, and the value of equipment is depreciated on this basis. Yet Charvet has always been proud of the fact that its suites last for 15 years or more. Does this therefore present some conflict?
No, not at all. One of the advantages of the One series is its unique joining system. If after a few years the concept in that premises changes and they want to redesign the cooking suite, they can simply unbolt it and other pieces can be added in. End panels can also be swapped around if the piece that is now on the end wasn’t on the end before. It makes it future-proof. Charvet obviously has a reputation and Charvet One will be the same — it’s built with the intention to last at least 12 to 15 years, even in a very heavy duty environment.
Our view is why buy something that is only going to last you under heavy use for four or five years and give you the ongoing problems of lighter duty equipment when this doesn’t cost a huge amount more but will very much save you money during its operation. It will also offer the right performance and it is highly adaptable should the use of the premises change.
Charvet is generally associated with the pricier end of the catering equipment market. How affordable is Charvet One?
Charvet One is designed for a budget, so it is a good 20% cheaper on average than our 800 series and yet it basically does the same thing but without all the thrills of the customisation. If chain businesses want a simple workhorse piece of kit, then this will do the job. It is built with chain budgets in mind and has all the traditional Charvet reliability and power.
We recently installed a new concept range with Bella Italia up in Dudley. I think they are a case in point of a chain or group which is actually now building restaurants for the long term”
How is the installation different from other Charvet suites?
The installation costs are much cheaper due to its design, so you can set up a kitchen in less time. What used to take two-and-a-half days, you can complete in a day, and if and when new menu items are added or concepts change it is very easy to extract and insert new cooking components because of the design and the watertight fishplate joins.
What is the lead time or build time for Charvet One?
One of the advantages in terms of the production is that in reality it is about three weeks — four maximum — in the factory, whereas the other Pro Series, 700, 800 and 900, are six weeks. It is a faster turnaround because of the production techniques used, so a chain roll-out programme over the course of a year wouldn’t cause us any problems.
Have you opened any dialogue with chain customers yet?
Through one of our dealer partners we recently installed a new concept range with Bella Italia up in Dudley. I think they are a case in point of a chain or group which is actually now building restaurants for the long term. They are looking to achieve several things as far as I understand. One is they traditionally bought selected [cooking] items, so not everything always lined up. Quite often these kitchens are on view, so they are looking to smarten up the kitchen and make it ergonomic to use.
They are also very busy so they are looking for the power that perhaps they haven’t had, and indeed the flexibility as the menu might develop. We provided an 800 series in Dudley because at the time it was designed we hadn’t quite launched the Charvet One. But with the way things are likely to move, the reality is that they will probably go with the Charvet One. We are having further ongoing discussions.
In focus: Wayne Cuomo
Wayne Cuomo graduated from Surrey University in 1974 with a hotel and catering management degree and within two years became the catering equipment executive for Grand Metropolitan Hotels, which at the time operated more than 60 hotels in Europe. Wayne then ran equipment brand Olis’ UK distribution company O.L. Smith for five years before joining the Regethermic Group, where he was involved in the launch of Convotherm combi steamers.
After that he spent 13 years as a director of London kitchen house Hansens. Having gained an insight into the quality of Charvet equipment during his time in the market, he had no hesitation in taking on the business in the UK when the opportunity arose, setting up Charvet Premier Ranges in 1997. Wayne is currently involved in launching Premier Ranges’ export office in Dubai. It will open in September, promoting the brand in the Middle East and Far East.