Chris Galvin shrugs off challenges and competition with kitchen adaptations

Chris Galvin

In the face of growing challenges and competition, industry legend Chris Galvin has made equipment and set-up adaptations across his restaurant estate. FEJ hears what changes he has made and how they are paying off.

As with any industry, businesses that adapt to new challenges are those that thrive whilst those who stagnate tend to fall behind. The restaurant industry is no different and has its fair share of luminaries who are constantly looking to diversify their businesses and adopt new methods and technologies. Brexit, however, has thrown up a number of unfamiliar challenges, which, combined with an uncertain economic climate, has produced a potent cocktail that is leaving a sour taste in the mouths of many operators.

Chris Galvin, joint owner of Galvin Restaurants along with his brother, Jeff, operates 10 sites across the UK and has recently embarked on his Galvin Pub Co venture. Just like any multi-site operator, Galvin is facing the prospect of losing a significant chunk of his kitchen brigade if Article 50 means EU citizens are unable to work in the UK.
Even if this does not transpire, recruiting chefs is becoming increasingly challenging across the board and many operators are struggling to find experienced kitchen staff. In response to this ‘crisis’, Galvin has been proactive in ensuring his business is water-tight for whatever the outcome of Britain’s EU exit happens to be.

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On launching the Green Man pub in Chelmsford, Essex, Galvin found recruitment to be a “nightmare”. “In the country, getting staff is murder, there are only so many chefs that want to go to the country,” Galvin stated at the Pub17 show in London.

He adds: “I wanted a kitchen where I could have fewer chefs and look at technology to take the weight of running a pub kitchen and also use technology on the floor.” In employing iPads front of house, Galvin has found operations to be much smoother and more streamlined. However, even though orders can be made quicker and the customer is served faster on iPads, he admits that some waiters and waitresses remain sceptical about using them.

Galvin has been able to reduce the number of staff needed on the rota with a number of kitchen equipment investments. At La Chapelle in Spital Square, London, the group spent around £700,000 on two separate kitchens, but built a central wash-up area so it could halve the amount of porters on duty.

“I wanted a kitchen where I could have fewer chefs and look at technology to take the weight of running a pub kitchen”

“That has worked brilliantly,” reveals Galvin. “When we were going to turn it into a pub, we got [Essex-based kitchen house] CCE Group to come in and find the latest kithcen technology we could employ. We could have four less chefs. I’ve been a chef for 40 years so I don’t want to see jobs disappearing, but chefs are hard to come by. There are a lot more chefs but they’re diluted.”

In addition to large-scale design features like the central wash-up area, the group looked at individual pieces of equipment with a mind to improve operations. “We invested in Frima bratt pans, which although come at a premium, will cook much quicker and we can get three or four batches in where our former bratt pan would only get one. If you’ve got a stock in, with the Frima you get almost 100% stock out where otherwise we’d lose 50% on regular stock,” explains Galvin.

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He notes how being able to use the Frima pan for multiple cooking processes makes it a time- and space-saving device. Similarly, installing a grill from Synergy has significantly increased the kitchen’s capacity to cook meat. Galvin highlights how removing the need for a fat tray, via a fat-atomising feature, has saved time for staff.

Not only have Galvin’s equipment investments targeted the issue of fewer chefs, but they have also aimed to diversify current sites in order to cope with a changing foodservice landscape. In Spitalfields, where Galvin operates Galvin HOP, a ‘pub deluxe’, the group found the grab-and-go market was damaging the pub business. In response, Galvin applied for permission to install a takeaway window at the pub and invested in an Ovention Matchbox 360-12 oven to cook hot dogs well enough to compete with the quick service burger outlets swarming the area (see panel opposite).

“We’ve got a machine that will cook a hot dog beautifully in no time, I defy any chef to do better,” he challenges. The front-of-house, purpose-built and self-contained hot dog workstation incorporates the Ovention oven and has a capacity to cook up to eight hot dogs simultaneously in two-and-a-half minutes. Ovention claims that the oven delivers over twice the volume of hot air and better air concentration than conventional conveyor ovens.

On the pub’s diversification, Galvin comments: “I love Alsasce and I love choucroute so we cooked a big choucroute and we asked our butcher how do we get all this into a hotdog? It took about six months to eventually get there and then we did some brand alignment. We worked with My Mustard who have got a beautiful mustard boutique opposite Burlington Arcade and we invested in a mustard pump.”

Galvin HOP’s deluxe hot dogs have proved remarkably popular since they recently launched and have now been incorporated into the pub as a useful business-bumper over lunchtime service on weekdays and quieter times. During busy periods, Galvin HOP sells up to 300 hot dogs a day.

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It is forward-thinking moves like these which are helping to keep certain restaurant groups ahead of the game in an environment which is seeing an increasing threat from QSR firms. Galvin Restaurants and sister Galvin Pub Co are proof that in spite of a challenging climate, if businesses are prepared to make investments and adapt, perhaps in ways they had not before considered, then the outlook does not have to be bleak at all.

And although nobody in the industry wants to put chefs out of work, the reality is that recruitment and staff retention is becoming more difficult and so operators have to start thinking about equipment and technology to aid kitchens. Through his back- and front-of-house investments, Galvin says he has definitely managed to have fewer bodies in the kitchen and has achieved a quicker, more efficient service.

Although tough times lie ahead for all sectors of the foodservice industry, it appears that for now Galvin Restaurants is on the right track towards a profitable future. Galvin notes how the group is learning every day and reveals he is on the look-out for more sites. And far from guarding his secrets from other operators, Galvin says: “Our kitchens are always open, if anyone wants to ever come and look at technology. Come and have a look at the bits of kit and the chefs will tell you what’s good and what’s not.”

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