High-flying US fast food chain Wing Zone has launched its first store in the UK and like any overseas player it is keen to follow the tried and tested formula that has fuelled its success at home. FEJ explores how it is marrying US kitchen specification with local UK catering equipment supply to create the perfect kitchen.
American fast food chain Wing Zone’s maiden UK site is up and running following the installation of a kitchen designed to ensure it can serve fast food, salads and sides at speed. And, according to the company involved in specifying and commissioning the kitchen facilities, the fact that it can draw upon a “well-oiled” operational template from the US meant that getting the branch ready for launch was relatively smooth.
Prior to the site-specific design at Finsbury Park, where the 32-cover restaurant is located, Tyne and Wear-based kitchen house RDA spent time looking at the existing Wing Zone branding and understanding its production needs with a view to reproducing the formula in the UK.
“We liaised very closely with the team in the US to learn their operation and source a range of specific catering equipment to provide a well-oiled, tried and tested operation,” explains RDA’s lead designer Nick Bradley. “Some of the items were delivered from the US, and others were manufactured by our suppliers in the UK to bespoke US specifications. The intention was always to replicate this in the UK as far as possible and therefore unique equipment was required to be imported.”
One of the key items of equipment that was brought over was a “sizeable” Manitowoc 5-tank fryer, which cooks the products from fresh. “The 5-tank fryer was specialised and not something we could easily source through our own procurement routes, so we imported it from the US,” he says.
We effectively had to ‘walk the journey’ of a chef to determine precisely where to place a small 400x400mm bench to set down chicken tenders prior to frying”
Outside of that, RDA was able to use its existing supply base to pinpoint other key items of equipment that could meet the standards it had set out.
“We were able to source like-for-like equipment models for the griddle requirement, refrigeration and dishwash,” says Bradley. “Foster, Falcon, Hobart and CED supplied the refrigeration, cooking equipment, dishwashing and tabling respectively. The prep and sink tables were all bespoke to measure — often particularly slim-lined to fit the space. The ‘flavour station’ — a prep bench, shelving configuration upon which flavours are applied to cooked product — was fabricated in the UK from US construction drawings.”
Wing Zone has been operating for more than 25 years, but it is only over the past year that it has made the decision to enter the UK. It does have overseas experience, however, with an increasing number of outlets in Panama, South America and Beijing augmenting the 100 branches that it runs in the US.
Wing Zone UK — the master franchisee for the UK — brought in kitchen house RDA to provide a full ‘turnkey’ service, which involved developing the Wing Zone concept, producing site-specific detailed designs and managing the complete installation of the store. Aside from particular equipment that needed to be imported from the US, such as the fryers, Bradley says that the company didn’t need to modify the kitchen too dramatically from the set-up that Wing Zone has mastered in the US. “We followed the US blueprint closely in terms of the principal layout and configuration,” he says.
One noticeable difference from the model that Wing Zone operates in the US is the footprint in which it had to work with. This required RDA to focus on ensuring that the company could produce a similar menu from a smaller workspace.
“The main challenge in the UK is a general lack of space, particularly in London where franchisees will pay a premium,” he says. “A typical central American site is unsurprisingly vast in comparison, so everything had to be meticulously space-planned down to the last POS printer. This required a detailed understanding of the preparation and cooking operation and we effectively had to ‘walk the journey’ of a Wing Zone chef to determine precisely where to place a 400x400mm bench to set down chicken tenders prior to frying.”
It is a journey that looks likely to pave the way for the chain to expand its presence in the UK and install more of the kind of kitchens that it believes will help it gain a share of the fast food market.