Seaside story

For most people a trip to Blackpool would probably include a walk on the pier, a trip to the top of the famous tower or a ride on the town’s gigantic rollercoaster.

But for the projects team at Catering Foodservice Solutions (CFS), taking in the local attractions was the last thing on their mind as they set about managing a twin catering equipment project at the historic Winter Gardens conference centre and theatre venue.

The decision to revamp a section of Winter Gardens’ catering facilities came just a few months after Blackpool Council took ownership of the facility, forming part of a wider refurbishment programme that also involved extensive work on the main entrances, Dome and Floral Hall.

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After surviving a rigorous tendering process, CFS was awarded the contract to design and install a new Bistro restaurant kitchen and kit out The Mazzei Cafe, a new coffee shop opened within the site.

It wasn’t long before the seven-year-old kitchen house realised it was set to be something of a milestone project, says company director, Greg Archer. “It is certainly one of the most prestigious project we have done due to its location,” he notes. “I think it is the location and the history of the building that has the appeal to it.”

The development of the new restaurant kitchen naturally represented the largest component of the project, which Archer values at around £140,000 in total.

Previously known as the ‘Backstage Bistro’ and featuring a fairly standard and uncomplicated menu, Winter Gardens’ intention was to establish a contemporary dining venue with a classic Italian-meets-British cuisine feel called the ‘Empress Grill Room’.

“The brief was to try and create the finest steak house in Blackpool alongside a kind of upmarket pub feel,” explains Archer. “We were trying to create a place where people could come in and have pizza or pasta, as well as the option of a steak.”

To make that possible, CFS had to rip out the existing cook range and install a completely new set of equipment spearheaded by Italian commercial kitchen brand Alpeninox. The only piece of kit to survive the overhaul was a WinterHalter dishwasher which Winter Gardens had only recently purchased.

The Alpeninox cook line includes a chargrill, pasta cooker, four-burner, twin pan fryers and a large pizza oven, while combi ovens were supplied by Middleby-owned Houno. Refrigeration equipment, again from Alpeninox, was also brought in as part of the project, while a small Samsung wine fridge and a Bezzera two group coffee machine and Maidaid glasswasher was sourced for an adjoining bar area.

The most significant design change, however, involved transforming the kitchen into an open lay-out to allow diners to see their meals being prepared and add an element of theatre to the venue. Although the actual square footage of the kitchen remained unchanged from its original format, the servery area was fully opened up.

“There was pressure on us to make the equipment blend in with the rest of the building and make the kitchen look nice because it was on show,” explains Archer. “That was a challenge because where the opening of the hatch was, we had to create a one-piece top without any butt joints in the stainless steel.”

In a further bid to soften the harshness of any stainless steel used in constructing the kitchen, CFS also modified a hung gantry that dominated the facility, removing halogen lights and introducing ceramic heat pads.
It managed to complete the fit-out within the one-week timeframe afforded to it, although Archer admits the team was up against the clock.

“If you’d have been there at the end it was one of those ‘the paint’s still wet, don’t lean on that bit!’ situations. As well as us, you had the shopfitter, the granite man and the electrician, so it had to be well-managed from everyone’s point of view.”

While the CFS project team’s time in Blackpool might not have involved sampling the town’s seaside attractions, Archer insists the job was far from a chore: “It was one of those projects where I can honestly say it was a joy to work on. Sometimes you’ll do a large project and you dread going to the site and wonder what’s going to be around the corner. But with this one everybody seemed to be relaxed, they knew the aims and the end goal was achieved.”

Cafe culture

While developing the Empress Grill restaurant took up the majority of CFS’ time at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens, the Salford-based kitchen house also took on the task of establishing a modern cafe facility within the premises.

With the venue needing to serve everyone from audience members grabbing a quick drink during show intervals to people coming in off the street for a coffee and a bite to eat, CFS designed a set-up that was flexible, efficient and as far removed as possible from the trolley-with-a-canopy method of serving beverages.

“Blackpool has got a stigma about it and trying to justify charging £1.50 or £1.80 from a little bloke with a bit of hot water was a bit hard, so I think they wanted to try and up the image of the place and create a quality coffee venue where you could either have it in a take-out cup or a sit-down cup,” says CFS director, Greg Archer.

With the building contractors and interior designers working hard to create a cafe that did justice to the venue’s grand décor and Victorian heritage, CFS had a major role to play in establishing a catering operation with a provision for bulk brew service, but also scope for visitors to enjoy good quality coffee in a comfortable, seated environment.

It consequently installed a group three Bravilor coffee making unit to do the bulk of the work, supplemented by a Bezzera espresso machine, Brema ice maker and Maestrowave Panini grill. Alpeninox supplied the general refrigeration units that were needed while a Proline chilled multideck display and ambient display rounded off the fit-out.

“Winter Gardens is built for handling a vast amount of people and coping with quick turnarounds, so the biggest challenge was designing it to get the flow of people through and serve as quickly as possible,” says Archer.

Spec sheet

Equipment from a variety of manufacturers was used during the kitchen and cafe installation at Winter Gardens, including:

Alpeninox: Cooking range, pizza oven refrigeration
Bezzera: Coffee machines
Bravilor: Coffee machine
Brema: Ice maker
Houno: Combi ovens
Maidaid: Glasswasher
Maestrowave: Panini grill
Proline: Chilled and ambient displays
Samsung: Wine fridge

Click here to see pictures of the project in our exclusive online photo gallery.

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