EXCLUSIVE: You’re doomed if equipment and menu aren’t aligned, insists Comptoir founder

Industry entrepreneur and founder of Comptoir Libanais, Tony Kitous, says that honing the chain’s kitchens as the business has expanded to more than 30 sites has been a key factor underpinning its success.  

The company, which most recently opened its first site in Birmingham, prides itself on offering food that is fresh, healthy, honest and affordable.

That, in turn, impacts on what its kitchens look like, insists Mr Kitous, who founded the business 20 years and floated it on the Stock Exchange in 2016.

“In most of our kitchens there is theatre — we want people to see the team getting involved,” he told FEJ. “There are two parts to the kitchen: the prep kitchen, which is where the food arrives and we make it in one kitchen, and then the part when we are putting together a dish or assembling a dish. We try to make it in a very casual way and we want people to see it as more of a kitchen that they can relate to. We use shelves, jars, pickles, chillies, herbs, pulses, grains and spices to dress it so that people feel they are in someone’s home.”

The evolution of the business has led to changes in the way Comptoir’s kitchens operate over the years and Kitous himself likes to be kept abreast of product developments.

“We work with our suppliers to tell us what new equipment is coming, whether it is the efficiency, the size, the bulkiness or the flexibility,” he said.

He cites Robot Coupe food processors (for producing dips) and charcoal grills as the two most important bits of kit that its kitchens use on a daily basis. “And I would add chopping boards and knives as well. We do a lot of chopping.”

The opening of a central production unit at Staples Corner some years back was an important step in Comptoir development, allowing it to benefit from economies of scale, especially in London. Food is prepared early in the morning and delivered to sites, although a significant amount of kitchen work is still carried out in store. Sauces, salads and marinades are all freshly made on-site, while cooking is managed on site too.

His philosophy for creating a productive kitchen is simple: “It is all about flow, efficiency and the right equipment, and that has to do with the menu. I could get a kitchen tomorrow and do Chinese food or Thai food or pizza. But you can’t do a pizza restaurant in a Chinese restaurant unless you change the equipment. The equipment works very much with the menu.”

The full interview with Mr Kitous can be read in the current issue of FEJ, available as a digital edition HERE.

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