Space is at a premium for this 224-unit sub sandwich restaurant based in Cincinnati. Over the course of its 25 years in business, Penn Station East Coast Subs has developed a footprint to utilize the limited space to accommodate its unique food cooking process.
With an average of just 1,725 square feet per restaurant, the restaurant’s made-to-order hot grilled sub sandwiches pose a design dilemma when developing an efficient kitchen cook line area.
“We use multiple refrigeration stations in our operational process to go between our flat top griddle, gas fired oven and fryer. The product must be readily accessible at each station and have the capacity to store our daily fresh prepped product,” says Kirk Durchholz, vice president of construction for Penn Station.
When this is combined with the mix of kitchen prep and dry storage area, a dining room that averages 53 seats, and both men’s and women’s restrooms, square footage can really start adding up. Through collaboration between Penn Station’s construction department, a limited number of preferred architects and general contractors with firsthand knowledge and experience with a Penn Station restaurant buildout, the current layout has been designed over the last 5 years to a more standard footprint, depending on individual site-specific circumstances. The kitchen cook line has been fit into a 26-foot by 10-foot area averaging only 15% of the total restaurant area.
“When you think about the amount of production that must take place, from slicing whole Idaho potatoes, squeezing lemons for lemonade, prepping and slicing our meats and cheeses throughout the day, to the refrigerated storage and actual grilling, baking and frying of the food, it is pretty remarkable that so much can happen in such a small area,” says Craig Dunaway, president of Penn Station.
To accomplish maximum efficiency while allowing for an open-air kitchen design, equipment must take on multiple roles. Under-counter refrigerators also serve as table tops to hold meat slicers, lemon juicers, as well as the lemonade dispenser. Blocking specified on the plans allow for exact placement of potato slicers and sandwich wrap paper cutters to fit just above the refrigeration. Oven stands have been fabricated to hold additional bread prior to baking. Raised rail refrigeration allows for easy access to meats, cheeses and condiments and have been configured with cutting boards to make sandwiches to size. A prefabricated wall is fully accessible by interior side panels for gas piping and electrical conduit to go through, to go along with a dining room side display for ingredients and chips. Low proximity hoods create better air flow and eyesight accessibility that can be a challenge in an open-air kitchen design.
In the dining room, the restaurants are laid out with a mixed use of tables and chairs, booths, and seating counters for the most efficient layout in an inviting and welcoming environment for the dine-in customer. This allows versatility in types of seating available in both overall quantity and seat use for different market locations. That’s not to say there wasn’t learning curve to reach the design the company uses today.
“There was a time when we put the water heaters above the ceiling to save space only to find out the maintenance and replacement costs were greater than the space savings,” Durchholz says. “We’ve also learned from previous designs that the operational flow of both the food and the employees is critical to serving an accurate, well-made and timely sub sandwich.”
When a new piece of equipment or fabrication is evaluated for the restaurant, the positives and negatives are thoroughly reviewed from a construction standpoint. Then, the operations department will evaluate how the equipment affects the ergonomics of the employee, the cooking process, and the ease of cleaning before it is given the stamp of approval to test in a restaurant.
In a time when more landlords are willing to work with new tenants, Penn Station — which plans to add more than 100 new units in the next 3 years — has developed optimal store sizes for both length and width down to the inch for the franchisee to ask for in lease negotiations.
“It’s all about ROI,” Dunaway says. “Implementing optimal sizes, finding better use of room for storage and refrigeration, and a mixed use seating design help keep costs down and provide a better return for the investor.”
With the economic uncertainty facing restaurateurs today, thinking big in a small space is a necessity for a business to operate as efficiently and successfully as possible.
— Dustin Pierce is the assistant director of construction with Milford, Ohio-based Penn Station Inc. For more information, call (513) 474-5957 or visit www.penn-station.com