Nestled in the corner of a small industrial estate not far from the Olympic Stadium is an Aladdin’s Cave of catering equipment that produces goods for gourmet wrap chain Wrap It Up!. FEJ went along to the newly-opened site to discover how the latest foodservice kit is slashing its labour costs and bolstering its profitability.
Tayub Mushtaq was working as a stockbroker before a chance opportunity saw him move into foodservice, but although his entire working career hasn’t been spent in the industry it didn’t take him long to learn a particularly valuable lesson about catering equipment specification. “If you buy cheap, you buy twice,” he insists, as he leads FEJ on a tour of Wrap It Up!’s new state-of-the-art central production kitchen in London’s Stratford.
It is a philosophy that explains why Mushtaq has spent £800,000 equipping the facility with some of the most reliable and robust kit around. Add in the £400,000 it cost to acquire the land and the total investment stretches to some £1.2m. However, it is set to serve the company for years to come, providing food product and gourmet wrap fillings for its existing 13 stores and the dozens more that it has in its pipeline.
Our sales have gone up 10% to 15% in the month and a half since we have had the equipment”
Building the kitchen from scratch has afforded Wrap It Up! the advantage of being able to plan the optimal flow so that the production process functions in the most efficient and practical way. “Everything flows one way, it won’t ever go back the other way,” explains Mushtaq. “From the moment a delivery comes in, the temperature is recorded, everything is monitored and all the refrigeration systems are on a timer system. Every hour I receive updates of the temperature controls and logs on my phone.”
Raw meats and vegetables are delivered straight into large coldrooms which are parallel with the main prep areas. Once prepped, the ingredients are transported to a separate cold-holding area ready for cooking before moving round in a clockwise direction to individual chilling, vacuum packing and storage areas. Deliveries are made to its London stores every evening after 6pm, while its branch in Manchester receives three days’ worth of goods on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Mushtaq opted for German Viessmann coldrooms because of their build quality and the fact that each individual coldroom is self-powered. It assessed some other brands on the market but found they couldn’t make coldrooms that large without needing a separate plant room to manage the pack systems, something that would have cost it an extra £30,000. “It also meant that if the central pack system went down, they would all go down,” says Mushtaq.
“One of the other big pluses with the Viessmann coldrooms is that their panelling is antimicrobial, so if ever any raw chicken or something splashed on the panels, it wouldn’t form into a fungus. It stops any kind of antibacterial growth.”
Channel 4 came in last month for a documentary comparing the difference between centrally-produced food and food that is cooked on site, and were gobsmacked by the facility”
Food safety is a huge consideration for the facility, illustrated by the hose pipes and jet washers that are dotted around. Staff simply pull them out and wash down each area every few hours rather than waiting to do a deep clean every week. “We have had a five star rating from the council and we are applying for SALSA accreditation [allowing it to produce food for third party buyers]. We are getting our audit for that in the coming weeks.
“Channel 4 came in last month for a documentary comparing the difference between centrally-produced food and food that is served on site and cooked on site, and when they saw the facility they were gobsmacked. Even the hygiene inspector who visited said she had never seen a kitchen this spotless before.”
The £120,000 resin floor, complete with drain channels that required contractors to dig six foot below ground and a fully sealable perimeter, represented the biggest single expenditure, but for pure foodservice equipment efficiency it is the preparation and cooking appliances that have made the greatest impact. The company used to employ a worker that marinated the chicken by hand, a job that typically took 50 hours a week.
Now, with the introduction of Dorit marinating equipment, that same task takes just six hours. It has allowed Mushtaq to put the employee onto meat dicing and veg prep, which were also previously done by separate staff, essentially consolidating three jobs into one.
Mushtaq describes the Dorit tumbler as a “posh cement mixer”, but credits it for making a huge difference to product quality. “When the vacuum is applied, all the marinade gets pushed in and out of the chicken so when you take it out and check the middle you won’t see white breast, you will see the colour of the marinade in the actual chicken. And when you bite it, the flavour, taste and texture is penetrated through the whole chicken.
“Our sales have gone up 10% to 15% in the month and a half since we have had the system and we have had no complaints from our stores about food quality and no complaints from customers regarding the quality.”
Another item of equipment that Mushtaq has no qualms about endorsing is the Frima multifunctional systems. It has two of the 100-litre models, using them for all liquid content including minced beef, chick peas, lamb curry, chicken curry, black beans and scrambled egg. “We used to have the big pots that you’d stand over and stir for hours on end, but now you just put your goods in and close the lid; it’s idiot-proof. Cooking times on big bulk items like beef and lamb have gone from three to four hours down to 25 to 40 minutes. We can do 70 kilograms of beef in each one at a time and that is three days’ worth of beef in less than two hours.”
At the moment, Wrap It Up! is producing between four to five tonnes of cooked product a week, but Mushtaq says the site could easily cope with 25 to 30 tonnes — potential that will be unlocked as the business scales. What’s more, an overall cooking process that was taking one employee from 5am to 3pm to oversee at the old facility can now be completed in less than five hours, meaning daily cooking schedules are often finished by midday.
Frima’s sister company, Rational, has played a part in that, too. Two of its SelfCookingCentre 5 Senses are deployed in the cooking area for the production of chicken-based menu items. “We have spent the last month just setting up the system and getting it down to a tee, but it has already allowed us to expand the menu,” says Mushtaq, adding that the after-sales support it has received has really enabled it to understand how to get the most from the units. Another pleasant surprise has been the quality of the in-built cleaning feature.
“I would say that the Rational ovens clean better than some potwashers — and it’s a cooking machine not a cleaning machine!” he remarks. “When the trolleys go in there on the self-cleaning mode they come out very clean.”
Wrap It Up! worked closely with Middlesex-based catering equipment specialist Rees Associates on the project and Mushtaq says its attention to detail and knowledge of premium equipment was crucial. “Rees are very good and I’d recommend them to anybody that needs someone to project manage or advise on equipment and see it through to the end. They are always ringing us to make sure that everything is okay.”
For Mushtaq, the new equipment set-up couldn’t be more different to the previous arrangement it had. “If you saw how we used to cook prior to how we are cooking right now you would think we should have made this move years ago. There were no bratt pans, we were using an older version of the Rational, we had no marinators and the coldroom capacity was literally one coldroom. We had deliveries coming in from suppliers every day whereas now we get one delivery a week because we have got the cold storage facilities to hold it. The investment that we have made into this kit will probably pay off in three to five years, especially with the increased volumes from our new stores and our aspirations in terms of contract and event catering,” he says.
As far as Wrap It Up! is concerned, it has all the equipment it needs to expand its business. And there will definitely be no need to buy twice.
A kitchen for nationwide service
Wrap It Up’s production kitchen has sufficient capacity to support the company’s planned expansion programme, which will see it open dozens of stores in the next few years. While it has predominantly been focused on the London market, where stores receive daily food deliveries from its Stratford production kitchen, MD Tayub Mushtaq says the success of its first store in Manchester proves the model is scalable nationwide.
“We send out deliveries to Manchester on Sunday and Wednesday evenings for three days ahead and there is storage there to refrigerate it. The food is vacuum packed and we have not had a single issue since we opened the store, which gives us the blueprint to be able to open other sites out of London.” Wrap It Up! is planning stores in Liverpool, Leeds and Scotland, and a second in Manchester. In the next three to five years its target is to reach 50 to 60 stores, half of which will be company-owned and the rest franchised.
Cutting-edge kit offers labour savings
The move to a fully automated production kitchen has led to Wrap It Up! cutting its £280,000 salary bill in half, while investment decisions around new equipment have all been taken with long-term expansion plans in mind. Managing director, Tayub Mushtaq, says: “We don’t want to get to year three and realise we don’t have enough cooking capacity and then have to redesign or try to do things to accommodate growth. Right now we can go from our current turnover of £5m to £50m with no further CAPEX. That is the biggest advantage of this facility.”
Weekly food production: 5 tonnes
Value of new CPU: £1.2m