Coming into the B&I industry in 2003 after working as a food and beverage manager for the Ritz-Carlton, Damian Monticello, now corporate foodservice liaison with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, quickly realized he was entering a different world entirely.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida's main campus in Jacksonville has two full-service cafés, Café 900 and Café 100, and a smaller quick-service sandwich/coffee shop known as Café Perks, which has a second location in the company's Miami office. About a year ago, the company opened a micro-market grab-and-go outlet in its Tampa office.
Its foodservice facilities service 8,000 employees in the state. Sodexo handles its Jacksonville operations, and Compass manages the Miami foodservice operation. The micro-market is managed by BCBS's vending contractor, Canteen.
FE&S: What are the trends in B&I?
DM: Talented chefs and managers work in this segment now. It's no longer defined by "Meat Loaf Tuesday" and those types of offerings that were common in the segment 20 years ago. Equipment has played a big part in the evolution of this segment. We still have the horsepower to deliver the large number of meals a B&I account needs to pump out, but the equipment is more compact and versatile. For example, combi ovens can record HACCP information and send it right to the computer while we're in production during the day. This type of technology is helpful in dealing with larger accounts on a daily basis.
FE&S: What makes your operation unique?
DM: What's interesting about Café 900 from an equipment perspective is the amount of detail work we did to make it flexible before it opened in 2008. This is an open-air kitchen concept with multiple power receptacles that can accommodate a wide variety of equipment. We can have a flattop in a station one day, then roll out a fryer in that station the next. The power outlets accommodate different amperages, so we can get creative with our food offerings.
FE&S: What is the goal of your operation?
DM: There are about 100 restaurants within three miles of our Jacksonville office that we are competing with. And it's easy for employees to go off-site for lunch. We conducted a survey recently and found out workers weren't always frequenting the same restaurants. We needed to match that variety on campus. Also, we held focus groups with our employee resource group, which is made up of people from many nationalities, including Hispanics, African Americans, Pacific Islanders and Asians. It's important for our foodservice operations to meet not only their taste needs but also accommodate special dietary restrictions. We strive to be authentic and do justice to the dishes we prepare in house.
FE&S: Please describe your equipment setup.
DM: Most of the mobile equipment in Café 900's servery, including countertop fryers, French heating plates and flattop grills, is on top of four-drawer refrigerated bases. We're not moving heavy pieces of equipment, just disconnecting and rolling the units to different locations. If it's not being used in the servery area, it's typically connected in the kitchen. Equipment like our pizza oven, rotisserie and smoker all have set locations. There are duplicate fryers and charbroilers, as well. We utilize just about any type of equipment that's out there, but not every day. The way our kitchen is set up, production is going on at both ends. The back-of-house kitchen also is used for catering on campus and in our conference center. We rarely run into time conflicts or redundancies, given the way our meetings are structured. Service for lunch starts at 11:15 a.m., so we can get our catering items in hold boxes before the equipment is needed to prepare lunch.
FE&S: How does your equipment support the menu?
DM: We operate many of the standard stations that are in other corporate serveries, including a deli, grill station, made-to-order entrees and an international station that offers ethnic items such as pad thai, sushi, Indian cuisine and burritos. Induction woks are used for stir-fries, and we have a triple-decker oven to produce pizza, calzones and casseroles. Our carvery station is used for whatever rotisserie item is being prepared that day. A salad bar is in the center aisle and also contains an action component on the back side, which is where international foods are created.
FE&S: How would you compare the two cafés?
DM: Café 100 is an older operation with a more traditional setup. It has recessed and more defined areas, similar to a mall food court. Here, we recently installed a Sandella's Flatbread Café concept that utilizes a speed-cook oven. This has provided greater speed of service compared with a conveyor oven, which we used prior to the operation's conversion. We also refreshed the stainless steel and gray décor last summer, adding lighting and bringing in different color laminates that match the color specks on the terrazzo floor. Café 900 has more of an open-air feel. Even though it has the same square footage as the other café, it appears larger, and the flow is better.
FE&S: What are the biggest challenges in B&I foodservice?
DM: We are all emphasizing health and wellness. This is accomplished through partnering with foodservice providers. It can be difficult for operations used to doing things a certain way with food production and cooking to change their way of thinking. We've gotten away from our reliance on fryers and utilize convection and combi ovens for lower-fat cooking. Taste and quality still takes precedence as well as keeping the operation profitable and the partnership going.
FE&S: What are the most important aspects you look for in equipment?
DM: I look at the reliability and durability of the equipment, along with the manufacturer's reputation. It's important to determine what support and service I will receive. Although our facility is not as space confined as others, square footage is money, so size is a factor. Most importantly, the equipment has to be electric, as we are one of the few operations that don't use gas at all. This was a conscious decision on our part not to have gas lines put in, since it is not easily accessible in this part of Florida. Considering the overall safety and maintenance issues with external propane tanks, we felt electric power was cleaner and easier to deal with. Still, this type of heat can be a problem with equipment like French cook plates, since boiling a five-gallon pot of water takes a lot longer compared with gas.