Below is my plant trip report from Food Chem II.
Facility: Frisch’s R&D Facility
Date/Time: 25 April 2012 @ 0800
Contact/Host: Chef Greg Grisanti
Attendees: Culinology Class of ’14
Purpose: General exposure
1. About the Site
Frisch’s began as a coffee shop whose ambitions eventually matured to include foodservice. It is to be noted that there is a divide between Bob’s Big Boy and Frisch’s Big Boy. Regarding Frisch’s Big Boy, there are over 125 locations for which the facility that we toured provides, 90 of which are corporate owned and the rest being franchised. The R&D facility that we toured is 51 years old, about 310,000 square feet, and staffs somewhere between 70 and 80 employees. Many of the employees have been there for over 20, even 30 years, which is incredibly atypical of both this kind of operation and of the food industry in general. The facility was originally built to stock 50 locations, yet it does manage for over 125, and is currently operating at its peak efficiency.
2. About the Tour
We were fortunate enough to be taken through the entire plant, from the docks, to the storage areas, to the bakery, soup, and meat rooms. In each area, we were given a general idea of time frames, an explanation of what each piece of equipment was designed to accomplish, and samples of raw and finished product.
I was quite jealous of the Receiving area, just because it is where I am still the most comfortable, specifically the docks for loading the trucks with dry goods. A belt runs through the middle of the area up to the truck, and people equipped with a headset and a computer basically go down a pick list for each store and load it onto the belt. The truck is loaded with the freezer and refrigerated sections first, then the dry goods, which have separate docks. The trucks are out by around 7AM to deliver before 10AM and again after 1:30PM. Furthermore, the operation is vertically integrated; that is, they own all their own trucks, which is very impressive.
The bakery begins its operations at 5am. We were shown the machine which kneads the bread dough; they do about 500# of dough at a time, and to maintain consistency between batches, the dough is mixed by a count of strokes, not by time. The “soup gun” for filling the pie shells was huge! It’s almost comical on some level when one mentally compares the small equipment one is used to handling regularly – such as a soup gun – to its respective scale-up counterpart. One of the coolest pieces of equipment we were shown was the machine which scores the hoagie buns with a water knife, which controls the pressure of the water so that the dough is only scored to a certain depth.
There was sanitizer on the floor coming out of the meat area. At first, I thought that soap had been spilled and that no one had had a chance to clean it up, but Chef Grisanti brought it to our attention and explained that we were supposed to walk through it so that we weren’t trailing blood all over the place afterwards.
The building was very obviously an older one, but clean, and very organized as only 50+ years of experience can give. The equipment ranged in age from anywhere between 50 years old to 9 months young. One of the most impressive aspects of the tour was being made aware of the internal maintenance crew who have their own office area and know all of the equipment inside and out, and are thus able to make the best informed decisions regarding the need for new equipment, or if 50-year-old equipment can still be kept running very practically and efficiently. The uniforms were fairly relaxed overall, with some uniforms provided for certain areas, such as the meat room. For the food areas, a hair net [and a beard net] were required, and of course the correct shoes, but otherwise, we saw plenty of employees dressed comfortably in jeans and a lab coat. Ear plugs were also in general use.
This first year of actual food science has been a huge shift from the previous two years of restaurant training and experience. This tour was my first real significant exposure to what opportunities the food science portion of this degree opens up to us all. As of yet I’ve had no relevant experience, nor do I know of any opportunities in the near future; this summer, I’ll be going even farther back than the restaurant segment in a sense, all the way back to the farm setting and where the food really starts: in the ground. I’m sure I’ll find some way to tie it all together with time.
5. What two questions did you ask the host? Summarize the answers to your questions. What can you conclude from those answers?
The two questions that I asked of Chef Grisanti were 1) How long does a requisition usually take, and 2) What is the length of a typical test period for a new product? Chef said that a requisition usually takes about 3 hours – 2.5 hours for the frozen and refrigerated sections and another 30 minutes for the dry goods – and that a typical test period is about six weeks, though it can change if the success of the product is more immediately evident.
6. Which part of the plant trip was most beneficial for your learning experience?
Probably the part about soups and modified starches. Firstly because it was relevant to what we’ve been talking about in class, but also because it’s one thing in theory and another to see it in practice.
7. If you had to chance to visit the site again, what would you like to see or learn more of?
I’d like to see more of the bakery in action, even if it meant having to be there at 5 in the morning to catch it.
Chef Grisanti talked at length about the development process for new products. The goal is to give the restaurants material to be able to put out a dish in under 4 minutes. At Frisch’s, it takes about 2 months to receive approval for a new product, which is relatively short; that time is expected to be quadrupled for bigger chains. There are no formal tastings for approval; basically, Chef comes up with 50+ options, presents it to the higher-ups who narrow it down to about 10 to test, which then get narrowed down further to 3 and so on. From Chef, the concept goes to purchasing, then to marketing, and then to the actual department with whom he then works to formulate the scale-up. The whole process seemed incredibly exciting.
New menus are put out about twice a year. Depending on growing seasons, Frisch’s receives product from different farmers, or has seasonal menu items. Onions and potatoes are of course year round, whereas strawberries are taken off the menu when they are out of season, as Frisch’s uses all fresh strawberries.