Boston’s new prototype brings a freshened building design, efficiency tweaks to the kitchen and $160,000 in savings to opening costs—all without shrinking the footprint or number of seats.
By: Janice Cha
Boston’s/The Gourmet Pizza Restaurant & Sports Bar combines the best of two worlds: a casual, lively, multi-media sports bar and at the same time a sophisticated 10-page, 90-plus-item menu of upscale pizza and pasta, salads, sandwiches, burgers, wings and ribs.
And now, the Dallas chain—sister company to Canada’s 47-year-old Boston Pizza casual dining chain—is ready to kick things up the proverbial notch. The company’s new prototype will update the restaurant image inside and out, tweak the kitchen for better efficiency and trim about $160,000 from overall start-up costs into the bargain. All in the same size footprint and the same number of seats.
Boston’s plans to use the prototype to power growth—at least five franchised stores are slated to open in the United States and Mexico by December, followed by an additional 10 restaurants in 2012. A typical Boston’s generates nearly $2 million in annual revenue. Systemwide, the company’s sales top $975 million for its 392 outlets in Canada, Mexico and the United States.
The new design was an in-house project led by owner Jim Treliving, COO Mike Best and Construction Director Roy Lotz, with the assistance of Boston’s Training and Operations departments (“If I get their buy-in on an aspect, we’re good to go,” Lotz says). Boston’s operations also rely on Hockenbergs Equipment & Supply Co., Lenexa, Kan., for any equipment and stainless steel not otherwise acquired through their Canadian parent company.
“We were charged with updating the prototype about four years back,” says Lotz, whose drawl reveals his East Texas roots. “In fact, we began building that proto almost as soon as it was drawn out on paper. In the end, the first version proved too expensive, so we pulled out the best elements and started again.
The team at Hockenbergs likes the new model. “Roy has cleaned up the entire building process by making the restaurants easier to install and faster to build overall,” says Hockenbergs’ Janice Lary, who has served as the Boston’s account manager since 1999. “It used to take about 10 days to do the kitchen—Roy’s streamlining now lets us get in and out in about five days, which helps everybody out.”
The current version, in the works for about a year and a half, has already been road-tested. “The Canadian owners asked us to remodel one of their Denver restaurants into the new Boston’s design,” Lotz recalls. “We used the new colors on the exterior, added a ‘hard lid’ to the patio, and put in the new fabrics, vinyl, carpets, etc.,” Lotz says.
“They gave us 30 days to do the work, but when Jim Treliving, the owner, decided to visit a week before we finished, I was wondering if I’d still have a job the next day,” Lotz adds with a laugh. “In fact, he liked it so much that he had us paint the exterior of a second Denver Boston’s in the same colors—even though it had just been painted the year before.”
Boston’s Kitchen Tour
Boston’s kitchen evolution has been led by Lotz, a former restaurateur with the skills and imagination needed to find solutions to all kinds of challenges. The 1,800-sq.-ft. kitchen occupies nearly a quarter of the total footprint. It squeezes every ounce of efficiency from available space to support the 90-plus-item menu, most of which is made from scratch daily.
A menu change last year led to more than 15 additional ingredients and quite a bit of consternation from Lotz, who knew that every new ingredient called for another slot on the prep tables. “I said to one of the training managers, ‘So you want me to make the whole kitchen into one big walk-in refrigerator, now?’” Lotz recalls, chuckling. The newest menu, which debuts in August, will “drop about 10 ingredients, which means 10 fewer holes in the prep tables,” Lotz says.
Boston’s produces its extensive menu from a nimble, well-equipped kitchen anchored by a triple-decker conveyor pizza oven, a cooking island and a pasta station. The prep area resides along the back wall.
As you can see in the floorplan, the triple-decker, 7’3” high and 6’6” long, sits at one end of the island. The three conveyors are set at three temperatures and three speeds to cook or finish a variety of menu items. “Pizzas are ready in about seven minutes,” Lotz says. “It’s a big improvement over the old deck ovens.”
On the side of the island closest to the prep area is a pizza build line, with its refrigerated table, portion scales and microwave ovens. Pizza makers are but steps away from a handy sliding door in the walk-in cooler that opens onto a shelf holding prepared dough shells. Cooks pass the prepared pizzas—and anything else that needs to be oven-baked—to the end of the build-line table and into the conveyor oven. The finished pies are sliced at the cut table on the front line.
The opposite side of the island holds the cookline with a 36” charbroiler and three countertop fryers. Product is stored underneath in a 4-drawer freezer and 4-drawer refrigerator. Grilled or fried proteins are sent to the sandwich prep table along the front line for completion.
Pasta production starts in the area to the right of the pizza oven, where you’ll find a 4-burner gas range in line supported by a 3-compartment prep sink and a pot filler. Par-cooked, pre-portioned noodles of all types are passed on to the pasta station at the front line. The pasta station features a bain marie for retherming pasta, refrigerated ingredient compartments and four concave locations for induction woks.
“The induction wok system is powerful enough to boil a pan full of water in less than a minute, but because it’s induction, it throws virtually no heat into the kitchen,” Lotz says of the custom-made units. “And they save on water, too, since you don’t need a constant flow to keep the surface cool.”
The custom-made induction woks are, however, pricey. “The four wok bases cost about $2,000 each, and the accompanying pasta pans are about $150 apiece—and we keep 10 to 12 at every store,” Lotz admits. “But they help us save on production time while reducing utility costs.”
Boston’s Kitchen Innovations
The prototype features two key operational and cost-saving improvements over earlier Boston’s kitchens: in the refrigeration system and the scullery area.
Refrigerated equipment is now completely self-contained within the individual units. “We used to operate all the refrigeration from remote rooftop compressors,” Lotz says. “But that system required all kinds of rooftop cut-outs, and took much longer to install, not to mention the higher costs.”
Current specs call for self-contained, front-breathing units. “They’re more efficient, so they make less noise and throw out less heat than the older models,” Lotz says. The three newest Boston’s kitchens feature charbroilers and countertop fryers that sit atop refrigerated drawer units.
Best of all, “We didn’t have to change kitchen dimensions to get the new built-in refrigerator compressors to fit,” Lotz adds. “We just took out wasted space, and added plate shelves: we’d been putting plates on overhead shelves—then realized it was easier to pull from below. Even our pizza build-line is self-contained, even though we had to modify the area to make room for the compressors.”
The scullery makeover, developed for the previous prototype, earned Lotz a place in the hearts of Boston’s warewashers in particular and kitchen workers in general. The original layout when Lotz joined the company six years ago was a straight-line scullery. “On busy nights, we would be hard-pressed to find enough space to put dirty dishes. There wasn’t enough space to stage soiled plates,” Lotz says.
The solution, in the form of a more efficient U-shaped dish line, was measured in inches. “We squeezed the bathrooms [which ran along the wall on the opposite side of the scullery] just enough to fit the U-shaped layout,” Lotz explains. “We returned the space to the men’s room by adding a bay-window-type area for sinks that pushed into the bar space by about 2’. Then we added another flat-screen TV to the bar side of the ‘bay window.”
Remaking Boston’s Look
Practicality—backed by an engineering study—played a big role in reducing building costs and upgrading the restaurant’s look. Exterior innovations include pulling the Boston’s signature tower entry out of the building proper, reformatting the patio, downsizing the signage package and tweaking the exterior stone wainscoting and wall treatments. Inside, simpler straight-line design elements saved money while adding a more contemporary look.
The tower entrance element was the first step. “We pulled the tower out of the building proper and positioned it in front,” Lotz says. The change saves on structural costs and also allows the company to turn any building into a Boston’s by building the tower in front.
Another major design-element upgrade was to change the patio’s curved and swooping roof in favor of the straight lines of a hard-roofed patio.
“Earlier restaurant patio plans called for a lot of glu-lams—pressed, laminated wood shaped into the curves we needed,” Lotz says. “It’s an expensive process that can take up to eight weeks for job-site delivery.” The new patio design calls for straight lines and a standing-seam metal roof. Stores being built in warm climates have the option of adding a 35-seat patio on the opposite side of the building as well as the main 65-seat patio.
The exterior signage package was cut to $25,000—down from $65,000—by recognizing that more was less. “We got rid of the [supplemental] red neon signage above the windows,” Lotz says. “The building looks less ‘cutesy’ now.”
The last two changes involved doing more with less. The stone wainscoting surrounding the outside was decreased from 6’ high to 4’ high, saving money and construction time. Above the stone wainscoting, building plans now call for less-expensive EIFS—exterior insulation and finish systems, a.k.a. synthetic stucco.
Lotz and his team streamlined the interior design, too. For the walls, they dialed down the Mardi Gras-like colors and need for custom paintwork by graphic artists. The new Boston’s will feature two shades of creamy yellow with an accent wall in deep avocado green.
They also banished most of the interior’s visual clutter. Gone is much of the hanging signage, especially in the bar area, which now sports fewer neon beer signs.
The flooring in the entrance and bar area was changed from epoxy material to patterned concrete that’s been stamped to look like stone before it’s stained and sealed. “The concrete floor is faster to create, wears better and is less expensive,” Lotz says approvingly. “The previous flooring had to be troweled on by hand, leveled, smoothed, stained and sealed.”
“Boston’s new look will be more contemporary, classy,” Lotz sums up. “It was time to freshen the look and save some dollars in the process.”
Boston’s prototype design will serve as the guideline for ground-up builds as well as conversions. Given the current tight market, conversions will continue to be Boston’s main thrust.
“There are so many existing restaurant properties that can be turned into Boston’s restaurants,” Lotz says, noting that a conversion project costs less than half what it takes to build from the ground up. “I’m looking forward to our first ground-up prototype, but it’ll be a while.
MENU/SEGMENT: Casual dining, pizza & pasta
NUMBER OF UNITS: 392 (including 52 U.S.)
SIZE: 6,410 sq. ft.
SEATING: 120 dining, 86 bar, 61 patio
AVG. UNIT VOLUME: $1.9 million
PLANS: 5 U.S. openings in 2011; 10 in ’12
ARCHITECT: ID Studio 4, Irving, Texas
DEALER/FABRICATION: Hockenbergs Food Service Equipment & Supply, Lenexa, Kan.