Boston Pizza restaurants can usually be identified by their trademark signage and striking facades.
Not so Store 850.
It operates out of a quiet Red Deer strip mall, with nothing on display that might suggest there are cooks inside tending pizza ovens. The door is even locked to customers.
Yet business at the 4828 53rd St. Boston Pizza outlet is booming, said Richard Carramusa. He and his Edmonton-based partners Barry and Rick Arndt own it, along with the BP restaurants on Red Deer’s North and South Hills.
“It’s been absolutely one of the smartest things we’ve ever done,” said Carramusa of the downtown pizzeria — which differs from its sister stores in one fundamental respect.
“It’s a production facility,” he explained. “It’s exactly like a Boston Pizza kitchen is anywhere else, except there are no tables.”
The shop focuses only on orders for delivery — a big part of Boston Pizza’s local business that used to be the responsibility of its sit-down restaurants.
“We couldn’t physically cook the food fast enough,” said Carramusa, describing how the three-oven kitchens in the two restaurants had to keep pace with the needs of their dining rooms, sports lounges, and take-out and delivery customers.
During busy periods, that boosted the stress levels of kitchen staff and servers. Even managers had to devote time to getting deliveries out the door, said Carramusa.
“They should be out talking to the customers and running the floor, making sure the staff and the customers are OK, but they were trapped behind the counter packing up orders.”
After pondering the options of expanding their kitchens and even opening a third restaurant in Red Deer, Carramusa and his partners decided to set up a delivery-only kitchen.
Boston Pizza’s corporate head office was supportive but skeptical. It asked the Red Deer franchisees to pilot the concept quietly, said Carramusa, and the 1,440-square-foot kitchen, which opened on Feb. 16, 2012, became known as the Batcave.
“That was just an internal moniker we used.”
Subsequent identifiers have included the Remote Kitchen, the Hub, DELCO (Delivery Comp.) and REMKO (Remote Kitchen Operations), with the last of these now the most commonly used.
With two pizza ovens and space for a third, as well as coolers, freezers, deep-fryers and pasta cookers, REMKO can produce virtually anything BP restaurants can. Its central location allows food to be delivered anywhere in the city in about a dozen minutes, said Carramusa, and orders are processed through Boston Pizza’s call centre in Edmonton.
That produces benefits itself, he said, describing how call centre staff can spend more time chatting with customers about their orders and options — including new menu items and specials.
“Almost overnight our average guest cheque went up about 30 per cent,” said Carramusa.
Other REMKO advantages include improved opportunities for training and directing staff to where they’re needed most. It’s also helped improve the dining experience of Boston Pizza customers, whether they’re eating in a restaurant or at home.
“We’ve become just naturally more efficient by taking out that portion of our volume,” said Carramusa.
Corporate Boston Pizza has embraced the REMKO concept, even creating an 800-series of store numbers with which to identify remote kitchen operations. Franchisees elsewhere are investigating the idea, and Carramusa expects others to follow Red Deer’s lead.
“Fort McMurray will probably be the second.”