Foodservice Equipment Reports

UNIT DESIGN: Trail(er) Blazer

When your university is tapped to host the prestigious College Cup soccer finals, it’s important to put your best food forward, so to speak. Which is how the University of California-Santa Barbara came to expand its foodservice offerings via a 46’-long kitchen/concessions trailer.

“We didn’t want to build a concessions structure at the stadium—then we would have been stuck with another permanent facility,” says UCSB Dining Services Director Jill Horst. She pauses, then adds, “Almost all the equipment we buy for our kitchens is on wheels with quick disconnects. In this case, the entire kitchen’s on wheels.”

Horst and her foodservice team had a triple agenda when they decided to go the food trailer route. First and foremost, “The mobile kitchen was a way to raise the quality of stadium foodservice by cooking on-site and to expand our business by serving more customers,” Horst says. “The concessions trailer will also be used at other major campus functions. And we will deploy it as needed to feed people in the event of a disaster—and there have been some major fires in this area, where evacuees have taken shelter in our gyms.”

The UCSB concessions trailer may still be new, but already it’s racked up some impressive scores.

During December’s College Cup finals, the concession trailer’s crew of 12+ served about 3,000 covers on one day, 2,000 the other day. As of April, the mobile kitchen had been used at nearly 10 events—and in the process, has been able to “capture about 30% of the total number of fans—up from 20% with the previous tent/small trailer set-up,” Horst says.

The average transaction amount is significantly higher, too—up to 25% more in many cases. “But that’s a hard figure to gauge,” Horst clarifies, “since you often have one person buying for a group of people.”

Labor costs dropped by about 15% thanks to consolidating stadium foodservice into a single location, versus having to put up and take down an entire concessions stand each game. And food costs have decreased about 10%, thanks to the cook-to-order system that has nearly eliminated the food waste inherent in the previous prepare-in-advance method of serving.

And fans have enjoyed the new stadium menu, which now includes made-to-order hot and cold sandwiches, tossed salads, chicken tenders and fries combo packs, sweet potato fries and even—thanks to the large freezer—ice cream.

Trailer Tour

The UCSB kitchen trailer, its exterior covered in glossy blue and yellow vinyl graphic material and emblazoned with the UCSB team logo and the words “Santa Barbara,” measures 46’ long by 8½’ wide. On the customer side are five walk-up service windows. Each window is fitted on the outside with a mini condiment stand for customer convenience. Inside, each service window gets a POS machine. To either side of the windows, three beverage dispensers and three two-compartment hot wells provide ready access to serving soft drinks and hot dogs.

A full complement of commercial kitchen equipment fills the wall opposite the windows. The lineup includes a sandwich prep table, charbroiler, 4-burner range, fryer, convection oven, hot holding cabinet, hot wells, ice machine, beverage dispensers and more than 75 cu. ft. of refrigerated and frozen storage. A pair of hoods—one fitted with grease filters above the high-temperature cooking equipment and a vapor-capture unit above the oven—keep smoke and grease out of the interior space. On the roof, an RV-style HVAC unit heats or cools the replacement air as necessary.

At the opposite end of the trailer, farthest from the entry, sit the ice machine, CO2 tanks, water purifier, a 316-gal. LPG tank and a 45-kW generator. (The gas tanks and generator have access doors for maintenance and refills.) A 3-compartment sink and mop sink satisfy cleaning requirements. Underneath the trailer are liquid storage tanks, carefully positioned near the axles to maintain balance when the trailer is on the move. The units include a 60-gal. fresh water tank, a 90-gal. waste water tank and a 100-gal. diesel fuel tank. 

The UCSB concessions trailer sits in a “sunken” parking pad, whose 18”-depth hides trailer tires and makes it easier for guests to reach the windows. Permanent utility hookups—water, propane and electric—are found behind the unit and can be attached in less than an hour. In the event that the mobile kitchen is needed in a different location, the university would hire a tractor-trailer and driver. The entire process takes less than an hour for the kitchen to be moved and ready for service. Clean-up, after the event is finished, takes one to two hours (depending on when the mobile kitchen will be used next).

Timeline And Design

Creating UCSB’s concessions kitchen trailer was a relatively fast process. Horst first learned at the end of ’09 that her school would be hosting the College Cup the following December.

The UCSB soccer stadium’s foodservice arrangement at the time was serviceable but hardly convenient. “We used an older trailer—a cross between a storage unit and food expediting station, and we would also have to spend half a day setting up a mom-and-pop- style concessions tent for each soccer event,” Horst says. “The food was prepared at the main kitchen and served at the event site. As a result, at times, the food quality could suffer and the waste was higher than we would have liked.” 

In February ’10, with the August soccer season just around the corner, Horst and her team had reached the conclusion that a mobile kitchen would be the most flexible solution for expanding and improving campus foodservice in general and stadium foodservice in particular. Fresno, Calif.-based Carlin Mfg. was tapped to design and build UCSB’s new mobile kitchen.

“I essentially told the designers what kind of food I wanted to produce, gave them a wish list of equipment we wanted in the trailer...and that’s how we ended up with such a big unit,” Horst says. “I wanted the trailer to have the same kinds of equipment we had in our dining facilities—convection ovens, fryers, charbroilers, etc. I also wanted beverage dispensers accessible to every service window, and as much cold storage as possible. The ice machine was crucial to make the unit a truly self-contained mobile kitchen with no need to rely on outside support or ice bag deliveries. And finally, I wanted to make sure the design had plenty of countertop workspace.”

The design was finalized, and the order was placed in July. In September, the finished product came rolling into UCSB’s Harder Stadium. “It arrived on Sept. 17,” Horst says with a smile. “It was such a thrill to see the kitchen trailer coming down the road and into Harder Stadium.”

Behind-Scenes Mobile Design Tips

Choosing equipment for mobile kitchens is a function of both size and configuration, says Carlin Partner Ralph Goldbeck, a lead designer in the UCSB project and also for food trucks operated by Burger King, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. “Front-breathing (rather than back-breathing) refrigerated equipment is essential since all equipment has to be bolted against the wall,” Goldbeck says. “We chose this particular chef’s table because its low-profile height was perfect to sit above the trailer’s wheel well. The sandwich prep table is small, too, measuring only 48” from end to end.”

Most mobile kitchen designers encourage clients to forgo ice machines in favor of ice delivery. “The machines are so sensitive, with all the copper coils inside and their major use of power and water,” Goldbeck says. “But since the UCSB trailer would be stationery for the majority of the time, and would be serving high volumes of iced beverages,  we felt comfortable including one.”

Seismic mounts, in the form of thick rubber grommets, were used during installation to help absorb some of the impact from the road. The trailer’s torsion axle system also helps reduce jolts. To further offset unavoidable bumps, “doors and drawers are fitted with special hardware to keep them closed during transit,” Goldbeck says. “The hardware is the same as what’s used in commercial aircraft galleys.”

Happy Trailers

About half a year into joining the world of mobile kitchens, Horst remains sure that UCSB made the right choice. “The concessions trailer gives our culinary staff a real sense of pride in its work,” she says. “And with the many menu additions, we’ve gotten so many positive responses from event attendees.” Horst pauses, then adds, “Most of all, we didn’t expect it to be so beautiful. It’s state-of-the-art, cutting edge, and everything we wanted and more.”

Looking ahead, Horst sees mobile kitchens—smaller versions—as a way to continue to expand foodservice operations at UCSB. “Food trucks that can support residential dining, go where the customers are—that’s our next dream.”

FACT BOX

University of California-Santa Barbara

MENU/SEGMENT: College/University (concessions)

EQUIPMENT PACKAGE: $100,000

TOTAL MOBILE KITCHEN COST: $250,000-$350,000, depending on package

KITCHEN SIZE: 46’-long trailer; 391 sq. ft.

WINDOW SERVICE POINTS: 5

TRAILER WT.: 22,000 lbs.

UCSB DINING SERVICES DIRECTOR: Jill Horst

KITCHEN DESIGNER/SUPPLIER: Ralph Goldbeck, Carlin Mfg., Fresno, Calif.

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