Digital menu boards, video walls and touch-screen kiosks have become customary in the fast-casual segment, and Johnny Rockets new concept, Johnny’s Burger Factory, incorporates all those front-of-the-house high-tech features. But what’s different about this smaller-footprint prototype, located in Walden Galleria Mall in Buffalo, N.Y., is the back-of-the-house technology—if you can call it BOH. The first Johnny’s Burger Factory, which opened in October, measures just 1,050 square feet, putting cooking and expediting equipment just a few yards away from the customer.
To attract millennials, the design focuses on speed of service while delivering high-quality food options, says Jim Hicks, SVP of operations. These are the tools that make that possible:
Clamshell cooking station
The double-sided grill, which can accommodate four burgers at once, sports digital controls and instant heating. It’s designed for hockey puck-shaped burgers, not hand-formed patties, and cooks set the grill’s controls according to the pucks’ thickness. When the cover is closed, both sides cook at once, which imparts a hard sear, seals in juices and adds flavor, Hicks says The clamshell design takes 58 seconds to reach the designated temperature, while a standard grill can take 3½ minutes to cook the burger, says Hicks.. Chicken breasts cook in 2 minutes as opposed to 7 minutes, he adds.
For each burger order, an employee butters a bun and passes it through a caramelizer—a high-tech but compact piece of toasting equipment. It takes 15 seconds to caramelize the bun to a toasty turn.
Advanced technology in the fryers can sense what and how much product has been cooked, alerting users as to when to filter the frying oil. With the touch of a button, an employee can automatically filter the oil and recycle it back for another go-around. “We use less oil and the oil’s shelf life has lengthened from 7 days to 10,” says Hicks.
Instead of warming fries and onion rings under heat lamps, Johnny’s Burger Factory uses a high-tech warmer that circulates heated air around each order as it comes out of the fryer.
The grilling, frying and milkshake stations each have a monitor to track the status of an order and expedite service, says Hicks. “The stations are equipped like they would be in a full-service restaurant,” he adds, “and cut service in half from 6 to 3 minutes.”
The second Johnny’s Burger Factory is launching early in 2016 at the Carousel Mall in Syracuse, N.Y. As the brand evolves, there are plans to add new kitchen technology so each location can bake its own buns and make ice cream from scratch; both are currently in test, says Hicks.
Also in the works is a FOH tech upgrade to the video wall to make it interactive—allowing customers to post food photos through the brand’s Instagram feed.