Chipotle masters catering equipment maintenance

Chipotle employee prepares food in Manhattan on September 11, 2015 in New York. Chipotle's 1,850 restaurants spent September 9, 2015 in a cram effort to hire 4,000 new workers to staff a rapid expansion, as it adds 200 more outlets this year. Built on a pitch of fresh, organic and locally sourced ingredients for its burrito wraps and tacos, the thriving US chain is making clear it is not ready to ease up on expansion plans.  AFP PHOTO/KENA BETANCUR        (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Foodservice equipment maintenance can become a huge expense for an operator if it is not managed properly, but high-flying Mexican chain Chipotle claims to be benefitting from the personalised service and training offered by one of its major catering equipment partners in the UK.

The Mexican burrito chain Chipotle’s global store estate is on the verge of exceeding the 2,000-restaurant mark, underscoring its status as one of the fastest-growing foodservice businesses in the world. The growth is not likely to stop any time soon seeing as it has targeted up to 235 new restaurant launches over the next 12 months alone.

The company has come a long way since chairman and co-CEO Steve Ells opened the first branch in 1993 with the attitude that food served quickly did not have to be a typical fast food experience. Chipotle, whose stores are all company-owned, subsequently continues to offer a focused menu of burritos, tacos, burrito bowls and salads made from fresh, high-quality raw ingredients, prepared using classic cooking methods and served in a distinctive atmosphere.

Without a fully operational combi oven, our business can’t operate. We need to be able to identify and resolve any technical issues as soon as possible”

The vast majority of the chain’s business is anchored in its native US market, but here in the UK it has steadily been going about making a name for itself in the grab-and-go sector. The latest store it has opened, at London Wall, takes it to seven branches, all in the capital.

As the chain has grown in the UK, so too has the need to ensure that the catering equipment it selects delivers the consistency and reliability expected of a global brand. But it also goes one step further than that: the kit has to be operated and maintained properly, too.

The person charged with managing that aspect of the business is Rudolf Plazinski, Chipotle’s European facilities specialist (below), whose role makes him responsible for all kitchen equipment maintenance issues within the UK stores. One of the major foodservice equipment brands to feature heavily in Chipotle’s kitchens is Electrolux, so for Plazinski an open working relationship is vital.Rudolph - PLEASE CUT OUT

“Maintenance can be complicated at times, which is why it has always been very important for us to be able to work with a reliable supplier who can offer suggestions when it comes to troubleshooting and who are also prepared to visit a site in the event that staff are experiencing an issue they are unsure how to rectify,” he says.

The extent to which Chipotle depends on Electrolux equipment to meet its daily objectives has led to the manufacturer becoming more of a business partner to the chain than simply a supplier. “From my experience, the European market can be quite challenging, so finding a strong partnership with a supplier that can offer after-sales support as well can be very difficult,” he explains. “There is no doubt that the after-sales and training agreement we have in place with Electrolux saves us time and also cost, thanks to giving us such a strong base of knowledge that we keep in-house.”

As I am responsible for the maintenance of our restaurants across Europe, one of the most beneficial pieces of training has been a detailed explanation of UK regulations”

Plazinski has spent a fair bit of time at Electrolux’s state-of-the-art training centre in Luton, where the manufacturer’s UK headquarters is based. It boasts a live training kitchen managed by a string of development chefs, allowing Chipotle to get to grips with the equipment and the way it should be operated.

If he was to state which area of training he has found the most useful, Plazinski highlights the step-by-step guide to the checks that need to be made on each piece of equipment on both a daily and monthly basis.

“This has been invaluable,” he says. “As part of this, I was given a troubleshooting overview of some of the more common difficulties operators and maintenance staff can face, which will be a huge benefit over the long-term in terms of reducing the number of call-outs we have to request.”

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY ANNE-SOPHIE MOREL People walk past the "Chipotle" restaurant in Paris on March 18, 2015. France has become a new hunting ground for foreign fast food brands looking to establish branches. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSON        (Photo credit should read THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)

The nature of Chipotle’s menu means that each of its restaurants relies very heavily on its combi oven to cook everything, from the different meats it offers through to the rice and beans that go with them.

“Without a fully operational combi oven, our business can’t operate, which means we need to be able to identify and resolve any technical issues as soon as possible,” says Plazinski.

“Electrolux tailored the training we were given with this in mind to ensure that whenever a problem does occur — overheating for example — I know exactly how to log into the maintenance section of the main menu and diagnose the problem. This helps to save time, the potential cost of interruptions to service and, most importantly, keeps our operation running smoothly.”

On an individual restaurant level, every time a combi oven has been installed, a member of the manufacturer’s technical team has visited the site soon afterwards to ensure that everyone using the appliance knows how to operate, clean, and maintain it on an ongoing basis. “Providing training in the environment in which the equipment is used certainly helps staff to retain the information given to them at the time,” he comments.

Training can come in all shapes and sizes. And for someone like Plazinski, whose role transcends the European market place, one of the biggest benefits of working closely with Electrolux is that it has given him the local product insight he requires. “As I am responsible for the maintenance of our restaurants across Europe, one of the most beneficial pieces of training Electrolux have offered me is a detailed explanation of UK regulations,” he says.

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 27:  Chipotle restaurant workers fill orders for customers on the day that the company announced it will only use non-GMO ingredients in its food on April 27, 2015 in Miami, Florida.  The company announced, that the Denver-based chain would not use the GMO's, which is an organism whose genome has been altered via genetic engineering in the food served at Chipotle Mexican Grills.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“It is important for me to know which components of a piece of equipment I am allowed to fix myself, and which would have to be addressed by Electrolux. By spending time with Electrolux’s technical team at the Center of Excellence in Luton, I’ve been able to gain a detailed understanding of the specifics of each product we use, which is hugely important when it comes to looking after the equipment.”

As far as Plazinski is concerned, if the kitchen equipment is properly maintained and operated, Chipotle stands a greater chance of achieving what it sets out to do best: deliver great-tasting Mexican food.

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