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How many commissaries does a small chain need?

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Question:

I have a commissary kitchen for three fast-casual concepts within a block of one another. I am opening another location of two of these concepts across town, about 15 minutes away. I am debating whether to have my existing commissary serve all five locations, or start a second one (the new locations have a big kitchen space). Any advice?

– Restaurant owner, Philadelphia

Answer:

The main advantage of having your kitchen as close as possible to your service line is freshness—something is lost the further production happens from consumption. Without knowing too much about your menu, the first question to ask is: Does anything need to be prepared entirely on-site for product quality? For example, if a signature element of your concept is fresh-fried warm doughnuts or made-to-order omelets, that menu simply can’t transition well to a commissary model. However, since you are already using a commissary, I assume your concepts work. In that case, I think you would be much better served by investing in your single commissary rather than duplicating efforts.

There are a few advantages to consolidating your production to a single commissary if you have the capacity:

  • Saving on skilled labor.
  • A single point person or responsible party (production manager or chef).
  • Product consistency.
  • Savings on equipment/build out.
  • Economies of scale in producing more units.
  • Easier purchasing, receiving and inventory management.
  • Increased job task specialization.

There are two big disadvantages—transportation expense and increased risk of time-temperature abuse. In general, the savings on labor and equipment from forgoing the second kitchen justify the expense of a vehicle, driver and holding equipment to safely transport the food among your locations. One key concern is keeping that food at the proper temperature. You should have HACCP plans—and they are required by most municipalities for these cases—showing how the food will be safely transported and temperatures maintained.

More on commissary models here

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