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CASE STUDY: How Merrychef transformed Sheffield University’s catering operation

Merrychef at Diamond Kitchen, Sheffield University

University catering has come a long way since Peter Anstess joined the retail catering management team back in 2008.

Challenged back then to transform an on-site campus café, which was serving instant coffee and high calorie snacks, into something more appealing, Peter immediately had a vision for something more akin to a high street coffee shop, than a school canteen.

His problem however, was that there was absolutely no room for extraction and the available kitchen area was only slightly larger than a double wardrobe. As such, Peter, now general manager, felt his options were limited, as he explains:

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“I had this vision of a bistro style café and whilst the good news was that I had an area to work with in a prime footfall location, the options to offer hot food were severely limited. I knew that my fall-back option of a series of Panini presses was only going to produce an uncomfortable wall of heat for staff working close by and therefore I went in the search of inspiration.”

The inspiration that Peter so desperately required finally surfaced during a visit to the Lunch Show, when he stumbled across the Welbilt stand and what he describes as ‘the perfect solution from round the corner’:

“It is really quite ironic that I had to travel to London only to find that the solution to my problems was built just round the corner from the University in Sheffield. However, as soon as I sampled a filled wrap from the Merrychef e4, I knew that I had discovered the perfect solution to my problems.

“I was totally blown away – It was crisp on the outside; steaming on the inside and, in truth, honestly delicious.  hat is more it required no extraction and offered an opportunity to develop a menu that was exactly on par with the vision I had. Unsurprisingly, I booked an appointment at the Welbilt Development Kitchen in Sheffield the following week.”

That visit convinced Peter that the Merrychef e4 was the answer he required, not just because of its ability to cook paninis, wraps and toasties, but because it also allowed Peter to expand the menu to include steak and chips, Omelettes and other options. From then on, everything happened so quickly:

“Due to the support given by Welbilt and their commitment to the project, everything happened so quickly. Within a matter of weeks my vision had turned into reality and what is now the Jessop Café, owned and operated by the University of Sheffield, was operational. 100% of our hot savoury menu comes out of 3x e4’s which are snuggly placed in the mini kitchen and we regularly turn around Steak and Chips in just three and half minutes to astounded students. Thanks to the Merrychef e4’s, Jessop Café now turns over in excess of £300k a year and is the ‘go to’ venue for a wide range of clientele from lecturers and students through to those looking for additional space for informal business meetings and study sessions.”

Whilst for some that may be seen as the end of the project, for Peter it was just the beginning. So much so that across the university there are now 19x Merrychef e4’s, 6x Merrychef e2s’ and 4x Convotherm 2 in 1’s, as Peter explains:

“Since purchasing our first Merrychef e4, we’ve grown in confidence with our food offering and we’ve continued to add equipment from Welbilt to other sites. Within our catering operations all Merrychef and Convotherm pieces of equipment we have in place are absolutely vital and are an intrinsic part of what we do – without them we couldn’t deliver the menus, the food offering or the concepts that we currently do.”

Located close by to Jessop Café is the Diamond Kitchen, a much larger facility that provides 1000 study spaces for students alongside multiple lecture theatres. With a completely different dining concept to the successful bistro down the road, the Diamond Kitchen caters for much higher volumes of people. When it was decided to upscale the size of the kitchen and the servery, Peter was keen to look at different concepts with Welbilt following the success of the Merrychef e4 within Jessop Café:

“The Diamond Kitchen is completely different to Jessop Café, so when we were redesigning the kitchen so that we could facilitate high volumes of customers with a ‘grab, collect and go’ serving process, we knew that we had to come up with a solution slightly different to the one that we were already using with Welbilt. We still wanted to be able to cook fresh, hot products quickly – such as paninis and wraps- so for us, the Merrychef e2s was an obvious choice to install first. Not only does it have an exceptionally small footprint, but it has the speed and cooking quality of the e4 which is exactly what we needed.”

But Peter knew that to be able to offer higher volumes of hot food they needed something else alongside the Merrychef e2s. Following conversations with Welbilt and visits to the Welbilt development kitchen, a Convotherm 2 in1 was purchased, which opened up new opportunities for the Diamond Kitchen:

“The days of requiring huge 10 or 20 grid ovens are gone for us, instead we needed a piece of equipment that can cook smaller batches regularly which we can adapt, but that can still cater for large volumes of people. This is exactly what the Convotherm 2 in 1 provides for us. It allows us to offer a wide variety of products, but all cooked within one small footprint unit. In the top oven we can cook steamed or marinated chicken, whilst in the bottom section we’re using the dry oven to cook side orders such as fries or wedges. It allows us so much flexibility and consistently delivers great, albeit completely different products at the same time that can then be placed in the wet wells on the servery.”

Aside from the cooking functionalities of both the Convotherm and Merrychef, another key benefit is that both brands share the same operating system:

“One of our challenges when running 20 catering sites at the university is that our team frequently move around the sites. They have to be able to walk into different sites and feel comfortable as soon as possible and be able to operate the equipment quickly and efficiently. This was key when we were choosing the Convotherm and the Merrychef units, because as soon as staff walk into an outlet they can see the same display unit on the Merrychef e2s, the e4 and the Convotherm 2 in 1 so they immediately feel confident in using them.”

Over the years, the catering team at the university has built up a close relationship with Welbilt which has allowed Peter and the operations managers to continually develop a whole host of food concepts:

“Welbilt really understand what we’re trying to achieve with our food offering and are always on board to help us throughout that development process. They visit the university, they look at what we do and they invite our team and our unit managers to the Welbilt development kitchen to work with their chefs on the concepts that we’re trying to deliver.”

Continuing to develop and offer great new concepts within the university is a vital part of keeping the catering operations moving forward and looking to the future, it’s important that Peter and his team always have the support they need in coming years:

“The number of food outlets within the University has grown dramatically over the past few years; with over 28,000 students across all sites and 6,000 staff to feed, we are continually looking at how we can provide new and exciting food concepts for everyone here.  The View Deli for example is our first outlet dedicated to serving vegetarian food and is something completely different for us – but our customers love it. By using the Merrychef e4 to provide every hot food offering, including hot jacket potatoes, toasties and a variety of sides quickly and easily, it again supports everything we’re trying to achieve within the outlet.

This just highlights how important it is for us to always have that support from Welbilt, especially when introducing a new concept like the View Deli. To be able to drive the food offering forward with equipment that we can use to its full potential, as opposed to just great bits of kit that we don’t fully know how to use, is essential.

We’ve had such great support from the team at Welbilt right from day one. Not only have they been able to develop the equipment’s programming for us, but they have given us the support when it comes to partnering up the food and putting together the pre-set cooking functions of the ovens so it all comes together smoothly. This means that our catering staff can simply push a button and deliver consistently great tasting products every day.

For us, it’s all about the communication and we’re constantly having conversations with Welbilt – the one thing we always get is ‘Yes, we can help you with that!’”

To find out more, please visit www.welbilt.uk or alternatively, you can call Welbilt UK on 01483 464900 for further information.

Tags : MerryChefWelbilt
Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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