Q&A: Daryl Dollinger, President, Monkey Joe’s, Atlanta

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Monkey-JoesMonkey Joe’s is testing conveyor pizza ovens in a few of its locations, where staff are experimenting with making the pies from scratch in-house. A year after Monkey Joe's debuted in Atlanta as an inflatables entertainment venue, Big Game Brands purchased the concept from the developer. "We began aggressively franchising the business," Dollinger says. "As the economy changed, we sold our former warehouse stores and focused on opening sites in retail centers."

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The move turned out to be lucrative for the chain. Monkey Joe's now has 63 locations, with most sites situated on the East Coast and in the Midwest, in addition to one Texas center.

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FE&S: Describe your operation.

DD: Monkey Joe's is a family entertainment center with inflatables geared for kids ages 2 to 10 years old. Sites range from 10,000 to 20,000 square feet and include a parent lounge, arcade and between 3 and 5 party rooms. Locations also provide full concessions areas. In addition to children's parties, we host private gatherings, such as business events and reunions, as well as walk-in customers. Our private rooms seat between 15 and 20 people.

FE&S: What's featured on the Monkey Joe's menu?

DD: Concessions comprise about 20 percent of our overall sales. Prior to 2005, our locations only offered pizza and beverages. We have since expanded our menu, which now includes cheese and pepperoni pizza, hot dogs, nachos, candy, ice cream, cotton candy, pretzels, peanuts and smoothies, in addition to healthy snacks, such as fruit cups. We always look for other food options. Some franchisees add other offerings like chicken nuggets. Pizza is easy to deal with and less expensive than other items.

FE&S: What kitchen equipment do you rely on?

DD: Monkey Joe's kitchens can range from 200 to 500 square feet, depending on the size of the building. We have no ovens or dishwashers. We use disposable utensils and dinnerware. Storage space is tight. We have a four-compartment sink, prep table, refrigerator and freezer in back. Everything else is on the front concession counter, including a pizza warmer, nacho cheese dispenser, roller grill, soft drink machine, frozen beverage machine and display case for packaged beverages.

FE&S: How does staff handle production in Monkey Joe's locations?

DD: Two to three employees run the concessions area. Most of the units buy pizza from outside sources and bring it in for parties, or sell it by the slice. Other operators make pizza from scratch in-house. These locations have pizza ovens, which we are currently testing in three locations. [Making the pizza from scratch in-house] costs less, but finding skilled labor for production is a challenge.

FE&S: What do you look for when purchasing equipment?

DD: We specify equipment for our franchisees. The quality of the units are the most important aspect, since operators typically sign 10-year leases.

FE&S: Any plans to expand on your foodservice offerings?

DD: We are always looking for new ideas. Recently, we debated on whether we should serve healthier items for kids. Due to the size of our operations and the challenge of finding skilled labor, our goal is not to become a restaurant. Pizza would be the only menu item we would consider expanding on or modifying.

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