For commercial food service and hospitality professionals, identifying performance differences in kitchen equipment can translate into significant savings in time and money.
That’s why restaurateurs, chefs and food service professionals turn to Piedmont Natural Gas and its John H. Maxheim Natural Gas Technology Center in Charlotte for equipment testing, evaluation and expert advice.
With more than 4,600 square feet of space, the center has two commercial kitchens with demonstration, training and meeting space for up to 90. Piedmont also operates centers in Nashville and Spartanburg, S.C. The versatile test environment is a high-tech culinary proving ground, open to Piedmont customers looking to make decisions about the efficiency and operating features of natural gas food service equipment.
Here, customers from quick-service restaurant chain Bojangles’ and local eatery 131 Main, to other food service professionals and even school systems, gain experience with all manner of equipment including combi-ovens that steam, smoke and bake, grills, fryers, griddles, broilers and natural gas-fired pizza ovens, allowing comparisons across brands and models.
“Operators need to determine if equipment can perform in their environment and meet their requirements,” said Douglas Allen, longtime consulting chef to the center. “For example, a chain restaurant looking at fryers will evaluate performance criteria such as natural gas usage to bring to temperature, oil usage and recovery time. A seemingly small performance difference between equipment can be significant when multiplied over hundreds of restaurant units.”
Customers also find the center a great resource for menu development and even kitchen design.
“Once the customer has chosen a piece of equipment prior to the completion of their restaurant build-out, they need a place to start developing and testing their recipes with the equipment they’re going to use,” said Allen. “They can do that here and experiment with their kitchen design plans.”
Manufacturers and their reps take advantage of the expansive space by installing equipment that would be ready for evaluation by their customers.
“The Charlotte test kitchen is a tremendous resource for us and our customers,” said Mike Holland, owner of Charlotte-based Holland Associates. His company represents kitchen equipment manufacturers such as Angelo Po, producer of the Combistar FX combi-oven, a commercial oven for restaurants, bakeries and institutional feeders.
“We bring customers such as schools, prison systems and chain restaurants in at least once a quarter for demonstrations and training on the Angelo Po equipment.
It’s very convenient as these ovens weigh more than 500 pounds, so to have a centralized kitchen and training facility available where customers get hands-on experience is tremendous.”
Piedmont Natural Gas sales manager Carl Peterson, who oversees the kitchens, noted the center is used for building relationships with many partners.
Piedmont makes sure local nonprofit organizations benefit from the center. “We helped with the kitchen design and donated kitchen equipment to the Goodwill Industries on Wilkinson Boulevard,” said Peterson. “Similarly, we helped design the kitchen and provided equipment for the Charlotte Men’s Shelter, hosted the Harris YMCA annual fundraising event and also donated kitchen equipment.”
The center is also available for meetings. The space can accommodate classroom and auditorium seating. An audio-visual system delivers streaming video and remote access capabilities, and the outdoor dining and demonstration patio is outfitted with a natural gas fireplace, waterfall, natural gas torches and infrared overhead patio heater.
For example, April 4-6 the center will be host for the Gas Foodservice Equipment Network Workshop. Chefs, manufacturers, dealers and food service professionals from across the country will attend the event. Sessions include equipment demonstrations and presentations and a session titled “Business of Pizza.”