Foodservice Equipment Reports
Kitchen Design

UNIT DESIGN: More Relish Please

Relish Gourmet Burgers, a seven-unit concept founded in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, in 2010, has parlayed its short menu of upscale hamburgers and a compact, efficient layout into a winning combination that’s drawing considerable attention along Canada’s Eastern Seaboard and beyond.Relish is the brainchild of Chef Ray Henry and culinary entrepreneur Rivers Corbett. Chef Henry’s menu, featuring as many as eight mouth-watering toppings per creation, takes burgers from “ho-hum” to “humdingers” worthy of premium pricing. (Case in point: Le Nordique burger, dressed with Brie, Canadian bacon, caramelized onions and Dijon mustard; L.A. Is My Lady is topped with avocado, roasted peppers, basil pesto and goat cheese.) Relish burgers start at $8, but the top-seller combo, including burger, side and drink, flies out the door for $13—nearly double the going rate of fast-food burger combos in Canada and the U.S.

Even so, it seems everyone wants a Relish burger. In three short years, seven Relish locations (five of them franchised) have opened in all four of Canada’s Atlantic provinces. Relish’s niche relies on locations with compact footprints (1,100-sq.-ft. to 1,300-sq.-ft. spaces with seating for 15 to 25), in highly trafficked areas. The restaurants average $600,000 to $800,000 (Canadian dollars, close to U.S. dollars) in annual sales.

Space Challenge

Relish’s first franchised location, the company’s third restaurant, was opened in late 2010 in the historic downtown district of Saint John, N.B. Floorplans and construction were handled by Patrick Sohy, principal with Avant-Garde, Dieppe, N.B. The Relish interior was created by Edmonton, Alberta-based designer Laura Dreger, who developed Relish’s foody color palate of lemon-grass green and tangerine orange with cracked pepper accents.

The Saint John space, formerly a restaurant in a historic building, presented challenges from day one. For starters, its long, skinny footprint was like a bowling alley and it had a step in the middle to accommodate the grade from back to front, Henry says of the 17½-ft. x 66½-ft. space.

Fitting in the order counter, cookline, walk-in and prep area as well as seating required some “out-of-alley” thinking. The walk-in cooler turned out to be the key to making the layout work. 

The boxy 8-ft. x 10-ft. walk-in serves to break the Relish footprint into three areas: the cookline in front, giving workers easy access to cooler contents; the long front-to-back wall along which guest seating is arranged; and a miniscule prep/warewashing area directly behind the cooler. The walk-in’s stainless side wall has been “turned into a community bulletin board, covered with magnets instead of push-pins,” Henry says.

“Patrick wanted to locate the walk-in at the very back, but I insisted it be placed in the middle of the restaurant, next to the cookline,” Henry says.

Kitchen At A Glance

The Relish cooking area, comprising only about 300 sq. ft., is tight-tight-tight. Its 10-ft. hood covers a pair of fryers, a two-burner hotplate, a rotary toaster and a 48-in.-wide griddle with refrigerated base. Opposite the cookline sits a 60-in.-long sandwich prep table. The POS is on one end, along with storage for take-out packaging and an undercounter, backbar refrigerator.

“The cookline is kind of like a cockpit—it’s small, but everything’s right within reach,” Henry says. “We keep proteins in refrigerated drawers under the griddle. The freezer is next to fryers so cooks have easy access to fries and more. On the sandwich prep table, toppings and garnishes are held in 1/9-size hot or cold pans rather than inside a reach-in where they’d be hard to get to.”

Design efficiency is such that during slow times, the cookline and the POS can be operated by two people, or even one person.

Relish cooking equipment is all standard issue—no bells or whistles need apply (for now). “I’ve found that simpler is better with cooking equipment,” Henry says. “The fewer moving parts, the longer it lasts and the easier it is to train people to use it.”

Creating the right air balance between hood and make-up air proved tricky in the long, narrow space.

“In wider, more open spaces, you don’t have to deal as much with airflow issues between the hood and the rest of the restaurant,” Sohy says. To compensate for the conditioned air that was being pulled out by the hood, a mini-split heat pump (a ductless conditioning unit) was fitted into the wall above the seating area. The unit, an ideal choice for smaller spaces, provides heat in winter and cool air in summer.

The food prep/warewashing area was tucked in behind the walk-in. The 100-sq.-ft. space holds two prep tables and is equipped with a floor mixer, a slicer and a reach-in freezer. The crew does clean-up in a 3-compartment sink. Drying and storage sit on racks along the wall.

“There’s only about three feet of clearance,” Henry says. “You’ve got to be skinny to work back there!”

Relish The Day

A typical Relish day begins with food prep work from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. The restaurant opens for business at 11:30 a.m. and closes at 9 p.m.

Relish restaurant operations can be handled by two cooks and one person manning the POS system. On busy weekends, a fourth person will sometimes join the cookline.

“It’s a comfortable line to work,” Henry says. “There’s no crossover, no need for people to go behind each other—there’s no room, either, for that matter,” he quips. “They stay at their stations.”

Despite the complexity of the burgers, the average ticket time is 12 minutes. “It can be as fast as 10 minutes if the kitchen’s really jamming,” Henry notes.

The open layout and compact size turns grill action into theater, where guests can watch cooks flipping and cooking away.

“If Relish ticket times were faster than 10 minutes, you’d have to call us a QSR restaurant rather than a fast-casual place,” Henry says. “This way, people’s anticipation can build while they wait for their burger.”

Unusual details set the Relish concept apart. The staff choruses “Welcome to Relish!” when guests enter. They add an eponymous twist when alerting customers that orders are ready: “We Relish Ray!”

Dine-in food orders enjoy some weighty flair by being served in 8-in. cast-iron skillets lined with parchment paper.

“Cast-iron skillets hold heat well, are easy to wash and dry, and are nearly impossible to break,” Henry says of the unusual serving choice. “Plus they look great and are unique to Relish. I’m a big believer that great restaurant experiences are made up of the small details,” Henry adds.

A Look Ahead

Henry and Corbett plan to follow a phased rollout of the franchises—first across Canada’s Maritimes provinces, then into New England and points west. In ’13, “we expect to open our first U.S. Relish, in Portland, Maine,” Henry says. An additional four Relish restaurants will debut in Canada this year.

In 10 years, the partners expect to have opened 101 Relish franchises in the U.S. and Canada.

“Why 101? Because we live by the philosophy that we zig when everyone else zags,” Corbett said in an interview with New Brunswick newspaper Times & Transcript. “Everybody else might aim for 100. We’re going for 101.”


MENU/SEGMENT: Fast-casual burgers
HEADQUARTERS: Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada
SIZE: 1,200 sq. ft.
SEATING: 19 seats
PLANS: 5 to open in 2013
DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION: Avant-Garde, Patrick Sohy, Dieppe, N.B.


1 Coldstream walk-in cooler
2 True single-door upright freezer
3 Pitco/Middleby fryer
4 Wells/Middleby gas hot plate
5 Hatco conveyor toaster
6 Wells/Middleby food warmer
7 Southbend/Middleby gas griddle
8 True refrigerated chef base
9 True double-door reach-in freezer
10 Taylor soft-serve ice cream machine
11 Hamilton Beach blender
12 True refrigerated back bar
13 Hatco heat lamp
14 True refrigerated sandwich table
15 Robot Coupe food processor
16 Hobart floor mixer
17 M.K.E. pot sink

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