Among the rolling hills of Lancashire is a prestigious Catholic boarding and day school called Stonyhurst. And for Olive Branch Catering Equipment (OBCE), which is based the opposite side of the country in Cambridgeshire, this particularly college holds special significance.

The distributor has just finished a major kitchen project at the venue, which, with a value of £630,000, is the largest scheme it has delivered since the business was formed five years ago.

The project might have involved plenty of 500-mile round trips for the OBCE team, but founder and managing director, Phil Alexander, is adamant it will provide the sort of growth platform the company has been seeking.

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“This project is going to act as a very good springboard for us on future projects, and our forward order book this year is already looking phenomenal,” he says. “As far as the school and academy work is concerned at the moment we are absolutely flying, although we are cautious of the fact that the budgets are not going to run forever on education, so we are looking down other avenues to bring in sales.

“We’ve got a number of projects going on which range from £60,000 up to £280,000, such as the iconic Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, where we are working alongside consultants Winton Nightingale. That project is worth £250,000, so off the back of Stonyhurst the business is starting to snowball, which is great.”

The kitchen design for Stonyhurst was actually carried out by another distributor, CDG, but OBCE saw off competition from 19 other bidders to land the contract to supply the equipment and project manage the installation of the catering facilities.

“Our works involved everything from the front-of-house to the kitchen,” explains Alexander. “They had an old kitchen somewhere else on the site, but the new kitchen was too prestigious to scar it with any existing equipment. We literally brought over one or two items, but the rest was new. It is a 365-day catering operation — they don’t close — to the point where they are looking for 24-hour call-out and maintenance.”

Given that it was the biggest job that OBCE had ever managed, circumstances were kind to the company in the sense that the kitchen was constructed within a completely purpose-built facility. That meant it didn’t have to worry about ripping out the old infrastructure or operating within a working kitchen.

“As soon as the floors were put in and the walls were finished, we could store equipment there for as long as we needed it there to complete the job because we weren’t tripping over other trades,” says Alexander. “It wasn’t like it was a hotel being built, it was purpose-built as a remote kitchen facility, so it was a very smooth operation for us — very useful as our first three quarters of a million project. The biggest hurdle we had to overcome was organising the deliveries from Cambridge to Lancashire, making sure our warehouse was ready for the jump as per the programme, and ensuring that we delayed deliveries when we knew there was going to be a shift in the schedule.”

As well as the main kitchen, a new student canteen and serveries were all created as part of the investment, complete with bespoke counters featuring self-service tap sections and drop-in bain maries. In the kitchen, a large Britannia extract canopy dominates the ceiling area, while the runs have been designed to facilitate the workflow for chefs in each department.

The backbone of the kitchen is a Kueppersbusch modular suite imported from Germany. “We have never used Kueppersbusch before but it was specified by the consultant because they wanted to have all the big mixing pans and cooking appliances from the same manufacturer. Now we have seen it we can understand the reasons why it was specified. It is very similar to the MKNs and the Charvets of the world, it is a cracking piece of kit.”

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Six Rational SCC White Efficiency combination ovens — in 6, 10 and 20-grid variants — were installed, with Frima multifunctional units also specified to work in unison with the combis and ensure that everything from roasting to grilling can be done as effectively as possible.

The involvement of Rational in the project also had additional benefits for OBCE, says Alexander. “With Rational we have just hit the £150,000 mark, so we are now a Premium Dealer, which is good news,” he explains.

From a refrigeration perspective, cabinets were sourced from Foster’s high-end range, while walk-in cold rooms were built to provide the college with sufficient refrigerated storage space given the frequency of meals.

A Meiko conveyor system and pass-through dishwasher was installed to process the high volume of dirty plates the kitchen handles each day.

“We met all the specifications as required,” says Alexander. “There was no deviation from the original design whatsoever. The project has proved that Olive Branch has the buying power, project management and skill set to rival many of the larger companies in the market while still maintaining its small ‘family run’ business qualities.”

It might be unusual to hear that the project didn’t veer off spec, but it should be good news for the college given that the original brief showed its desire for kit that would stand the test of time.

“The investment they have made is unlikely to come around for a long time so they wanted to ensure that it was right for the operation and right for the food that is going out the door, but equally that it is going to be around for many years to come,” says Alexander. “The equipment in there is very heavy duty.”

Such sizable jobs don’t materialise all that often, but after proving its ability to deliver what the customer wanted with as few snagging issues as possible, OBCE has laid down its own marker for the standard it needs to aspire to in 2013.

For pictures of the project view our exclusive photo gallery here.

Spec sheet

Equipment from a variety of manufacturers was used during the kitchen fit-out at Stonyhurst, including:

Britannia                Extract canopy
Counterline           Bespoke counters
Foster                     Refrigeration
Kueppersbusch   Cooking suites
Meiko                      Warewashing
Rational                  Combi ovens
Trak Hupfer           Conveyor systems

Rubbing shoulders with the big boys

The completion of its largest project to date at Stonyhurst in Clitheroe, Lancashire, caps a fairly exciting period of late for Olive Branch Catering Equipment, and now the company is striving to build on that throughout 2013.

Managing director, Phil Alexander, has a put together a long-term business plan that involves developing the organisation to a point where it will match the catering equipment market’s most established kitchen houses for scale in the next seven to 10 years.

His immediate objectives, however, involve meeting the targets he has set for the next 12 months. “We will be moving into new offices as our warehouse is filling up nicely and our turnover will increase by 30% and staff by three,” reveals Alexander. “We are also looking at growing the maintenance side of the business.”

The Cambridgeshire distributor is aiming to reach sales of £2.5m next year, and £8m in the next four years, and Alexander believes he has the resources in place to achieve that. “Our project managers all come from working kitchen backgrounds, so the advice supplied is always relevant to the establishment’s success,” he says.

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Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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