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How a 10-year-old indie revamped its kitchen for speed

A Southern restaurant in Chicago focused its massive renovation on frying more chicken and, potentially, keeping and recruiting more line cooks.

Considering weekend brunch makes up nearly 40% of Big Jones’ business, it’s a no-brainer that the restaurant wants to make the most of that small service window.

But with the most popular dish at that most popular daypart taking close to a half-hour to prepare, chef and co-owner Paul Fehribach knew he had to do something. A decade after opening the Southern neighborhood eatery in Chicago, he undertook a massive remodel of all parts of the operation.

The upshot? Fehribach’s kitchen can now fry up to twice as much chicken in a little more than half the time of the old setup. “We would have (fried chicken) orders coming into the kitchen we couldn’t even fire,” he says. “There would be a wait for them. So that was a big problem.”

The renovation included a transformation to an open-kitchen format, as well as four new counter seats in front of it. It also turned a small, unused basement space into a second prep kitchen with a combi oven that’s allowing Big Jones to expand its bread program, and new holding ovens that permit chefs to fry chicken and hold it for up to 90 minutes.

“It turns a 30-minute pickup into an instant pickup,” he says.

The holding oven also doubles as a smoker, increasing the amount of bacon, ham, Andouille and other products the restaurant can produce.

The new equipment has helped the team create new menu items as well. Big Jones is selling crispy pork shoulder skin, or bark, produced in the CVap holding oven, as a bar snack. Pig skins dehydrated in the downstairs combi oven get sold as chicharrones, skipping the “extremely labor-intensive” and hazardous boiling process, Fehribach says.

What’s more, Fehribach hopes the upgraded kitchen equipment will serve as a retention tool in today’s tough labor market. “It creates energy and excitement and a compelling product,” he says. “It will be more exciting for new hires. And the open kitchen adds excitement.”

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