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Social Responsibility at the Business of the Year

Henny Penny Corporation, Eaton, Ohio, was recently named Dayton business Journal’s 2021 Business of the Year. It’s a terrific honor and we take a certain amount of pride in being recognized for the effort our employee-owners put in every day and the accomplishments that result. But it goes deeper than that. We see this as a validation of what we have, for decades, simply called the Henny Penny Culture.  

What is that difference? Is there something unique about this 900+ employee-owned manufacturing company that was founded in small-town Ohio and never budged? In this 5-part blog series, we’ll hear from some of the individuals who understand best the hows and the whys behind the things Henny Penny does and believes in that have made our company not only a Midwestern success story, but a highly regarded global brand in the commercial foodservice equipment industry.

What is CSR?

The idea that companies should act responsibly toward society is nothing new. Civil case law has been pounding this point home for centuries. The part where companies initiate and manage the effort on their own in order to create value above and beyond the bottom line is a more recent development, and shows how the corporate landscape has evolved to be more socially conscious.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at Dayton Business Journal’s Business of the Year is one of those functions that appears soft around the edges. But at its core is an immovable principle: doing the right thing. There are all kinds of ways to state the proposition, depending on the circumstances or situation. You can do the right thing. You do something the right way. Things either look right and feel right, or they don’t. When something goes wrong, you do what you need to do to make it right. CSR seeks to elevate this principle from a personal to a functional level. By making it part of business as usual, employees, teams and departments get used to CSR as a tool, a guide post—even a guardrail—for decision-making and ideation.

CSR at Henny Penny

“Corporate Social Responsibility is the process of building our values into our operations,” said Jennifer Leen, Director of Well Being at Henny Penny. “Since it’s a process, we have to learn it before we can live it. First, we raise awareness, gather information and develop strategies. Then we communicate, incorporate and coach. Finally, we own it by assuming responsibility and authorship.”

The “it” Leen refers to are any number of core values important to the Henny Penny culture: sustainability, philanthropy, service, Diversity Equality Inclusion (EDI). Each of these areas of focus has a clear benefit to community and society. Each also contains the potential for cascading value within the organization. A focus on sustainability, for instance, yields more efficient use of materials and energy to manufacture products that do the same for our customers in the field. A focus on philanthropy and service helps leverage the efforts of our employee-owners to support the things they believe in. A focus on EDI modalities builds a sense of belonging and an environment of mutual respect that not only improves performance but makes Henny Penny and the surrounding community a more attractive place to work.

“CSR really summarizes what our employee-owners have been living out for decades,” said Lester Wilder, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager. “This culture of doing things the right way, of challenging ourselves to be better, has always bubbled up through the organization from the leadership of long-tenured individuals. But now we have a process that allows that mindset to be actualized within a much larger organization.”

With more than 900 employee-owners and nearly 600,000 square feet under roof, Henny Penny could no longer rely on the tried-and-true method of a handful of workers huddling up to figure out a better way of doing something. The company needed to systematize this bootstrapping into a consistent process that every department could work with and new hires could easily buy into. That is essentially the role CSR plays internally: knitting together employee well-being, customer-partner commitments and environmentally sustainable operations through a data-driven system that makes it more efficient to be better.

Day to day, Wilder says CSR is about integrating social and environmental priorities directly into the company’s business practices. “We’re using technology to make these benefits scalable without devaluing the family-company work ethic. It’s truly a collaborative effort. Improvements have to be improvements. We can’t just eliminate something to be more efficient and then cause headaches, inefficiencies or worse, add risk, somewhere else.”

It’s one thing to engage in sustainable manufacturing practices. It’s another thing to make them part of the process. Henny Penny products have long been designed to lower the cost of operations for our customers. The sustainability piece of CSR helps our company reduce the environmental impact of its operations.

“We are currently investigating a software solution that monitors energy consumption in real time, building by building. Eventually we’ll be able to go line by line,” said Wilder. “When that happens, every decision we make regarding sustainability will be data driven.” Henny Penny also worked with a regional energy provider to make sure all electricity supplied in 2022 and beyond is generated from 100 percent renewable sources.

For Wilder, who has a background in engineering and public administration, CSR means doing the right thing all the time—not just following a new regulation or some fad in the marketplace. “It’s forward thinking. Being employee-owned, we are not at the mercy of short-term demands from shareholders. We are free to make investments in long term priorities. We’re able to do what is in the best interests of this company and its employee-owners. But we also own the responsibility to do it in the right way. Our customers do that, and we need to be where they are.”

Our Partners and CSR

It’s no accident that Henny Penny has been partnering for decades with market leaders like McDonald’s, KFC, Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A. “Basically, we share the same sustainability values,” said Paul Parsons, Henny Penny Global Leader for McDonald’s. “If we didn’t, those relationships would have ended long ago.”

Parsons acknowledges that in many ways Henny Penny is a small company playing in a huge field. “We can’t compete with these companies in terms of the global impact of their decision-making. But our brand is an extension of their brand, and that makes us part of the chain. When a customer like McDonald’s reaches out with something important through their suppliers, and then we reach out to our suppliers, big things get done. We help each other drive the focus on important matters. This is vital to the success of all of us in the chain because business is driven by values, and ultimately those held by consumers.”

In the end, Corporate Social Responsibility is about the alignment of purpose in a globally-connected marketplace where consumers simply want to do business with companies and brands that mean something positive for them. In this sense, it is a form of competition, forcing global brands to be more efficient in delivering on these imperatives.

It’s the same at Henny Penny. Our largest customers constantly challenge us to be better. We are constantly connecting with our customers, our suppliers, our industry, and our community to align our purpose as a company. It’s hard work, but it’s what we work for—a sense of belonging and being part of something much bigger than ourselves. It has also changed the arc of our business some years ago and enabled us to emerge in a leadership position.

With the recent addition of a state-of-the-art innovation hub on the Henny Penny campus, the commercial kitchen of the future is likely to be hatched right here in Eaton. The story of how that unfolds will be the fifth and final part of this series.

How to Attract and Retain Kitchen Staff During The Great Resignation

After two grueling years, COVID-19 restrictions on indoor dining are lifting and customers are celebrating by returning to their favorite eateries.  That’s great news for restaurant operators, right? Well, yes, but operators are now facing an altogether different challenge. While their customers are coming back, their employees are not, or at least not at pre-pandemic levels and certainly not at what operators say they need to run their restaurants. What’s happened?

It’s a byproduct of a nationwide movement that’s been dubbed the ‘Great Resignation’.  The mass exodus spiked in November 2021, when a record breaking 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs. And, in February 2022, another 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs.  Industries taking the great hit include Accommodation and Food Services, which saw almost 7 percent of America’s food and beverage workforce walk off the job, leaving nearly a million job vacancies and restaurant operators scrambling to recruit new hires.

Navigating the “Big Quit”

Many restaurant workers, who lost their jobs during COVID-19, have chosen to leave the industry all together.  No one knows that better than Chef Gregg Brickman, who’s now Corporate Executive Chef at Henny Penny, a global manufacturer of premium commercial food service equipment. “This is something the industry’s never seen before, but it’s been building up for a while. COVID was just the tipping point. People who had dedicated their lives to restaurants, me included, found themselves unemployed when the restaurants they were working for closed. So, out of necessity, they had to pivot, and many found other jobs that were more stable and paid better.”

Brickman’s not alone. One study found that 30 percent of former restaurant employees have found office jobs, while another 17 percent are working in education.

So, to say there’s a surge in demand for restaurant workers is an understatement. In fact, in a recent State of the Restaurant Industry report, half of restaurant operators surveyed expect recruiting and retaining workers to be their biggest challenge in 2022. In an effort to rebuild their teams, many employers are offering higher wages and improved benefits. Take McDonalds, for example, which responded to the labor shortage by hiking hourly wages for current employees by 10% and raising entry-level wages between $11 and $17 an hour.

In addition to more competitive wages and benefits, what else can restaurant operators do to recruit and, more importantly, retain staff?

The Little Things Matter – It’s Not Just About the Money

You’ve heard it said that while money matters, being appreciated and recognized do too, and maybe just as much. To attract workers, employers are offering incentives like higher wages, sign-on bonuses, flexible scheduling, and one New York City-based fast-casual restaurant, DIG, is offering its hourly employees something that’s virtually unheard of in the restaurant biz: a four-day workweek. It’s just another example of how the new “normal” for operators will be finding a way to balance the needs of workers with the needs of the restaurant.

Operators are also finding out that workers respond favorably to the little things …perks that make them feel valued and appreciated.

Show Employees You Care

HOA Brands—which is the franchisor of Hooters, the fast-casual brand, Hoots Wings, as well as three virtual brands—admits it’s facing the same challenges as the rest of the industry, but it’s fighting back with strategies aimed at prioritizing workers and making them feel valued. One incentive the company offers is a generous referral program.  Hourly and manager-level team members who recruit new workers receive a referral bonus.  “The key for us has been investing in our people and prioritizing what we can do to help them be successful every day,” said Tim Baum, Vice President of Company Store Operations, HOA Brands. “Take our training, for example. We not only make sure our associates feel confident in what they’re doing; we make sure they have the tools they need to do their job and succeed.”

Say “Bye, Bye” to Difficult, Dirty, & Dangerous

In the restaurant world, there are certainly tasks that could be classified as dirty, difficult and, at times, even dangerous. And, while higher wages and better benefits certainly play a role in hiring and retention, so does making the job as appealing and uncomplicated as possible.

Here are three things operators can do now to better position themselves in the competitive space.

#1: Embrace Easy-to-Operate Equipment

“The difficult, dirty or dangerous jobs are the ones nobody wants to do,” says Josh Frank, Director of Product Strategy at Henny Penny, which has consistently been at the forefront of developing equipment designed to solve some of the industry’s biggest challenges.  “With product development, we’re always focused on innovative equipment solutions that eliminate or greatly reduce the ‘3-D’ tasks.”

Frank says Henny Penny makes sure they’re always part of the solution; not the problem. “We can’t produce equipment that makes the problem worse. Our focus and commitment is to make equipment that’s easy to deal with from an end-user perspective, from an ownership perspective, and from a service perspective.”

Frank also points to Henny Penny’s pressure fryers, including the PFE500 and PFG600 4-head  standard pressure fryers and the Velocity Series 8-head fryers as ideal examples of easy-to-operate equipment.

“So, we have fryers today that will filter automatically after every cook cycle. We have fryers today that can filter at the press of button. We have fryers today that can automatically lift baskets in and out of the oil. And, all of those things reduce the amount of labor it takes to operate that piece of equipment.”

The Easier, The Better!

One of the dirtiest jobs in the industry that no one wants to be tasked with is scrubbing fryer vats.  As a value add for its customers, as well as any restaurant operator looking for a better solution, Henny Penny developed Prime Cleaner, which is a non-caustic degreaser specially formulated to remove tough zero-trans- fat oils, grease, even carbon scorching, all without harsh chemicals or heavy scrubbing.

“It’s kind of like Easy Off, but for a commercial fryer,” says Brickman, who’s scrubbed his fair share of fryer vats. He says that Prime Cleaner is a game changer. “It goes from having to scrub for 45 minutes to an hour, to not having to scrub the fryer at all. If you’ve ever had to do that job, you know how welcome an innovation like this is for kitchen employees.”

Want to see the magic of Prime Cleaner? Click here to read a case study highlighting how Lee’s Famous Recipe keeps their fryers in such immaculate shape. (And seriously, we mean immaculate. They even made a 21-year-old fryer look brand new!)

#2: Prioritize Turnkey Training

Another key to improving the employee experience is to simplify and streamline training. “From a training perspective, whether I’m a franchisee, general manager or store manager, I need to be focused on doing what I can to simplify my employees’ on-the-job experience,” said Pete Krause, Director of Training and Digital Assets, Henny Penny. “We don’t want to frustrate or make life any more complicated for employees than it needs to be, and with many pieces of our equipment, when you make a purchase, we provide startup training on site. So, we’re right there with you and your employees to make sure they understand how to use the equipment.”

But, it doesn’t stop there. Krause knows that turnover can be a challenge for restaurant operators, and that’s why he says Henny Penny has a multi-tiered training approach. In addition to on-site startup training, the company’s fryers and combi ovens come equipped with full-proof prompts built into the controls. “The prompts are going to walk you through step-by-step how to do different tasks.  Say, for example, you’re scrubbing a fryer vat using our Prime Cleaner. You don’t have to remember to add water or remember ‘this is when I need to add my cleaning solution.’ The controls automatically prompt you and then confirm every step is completed before you move on to the next step.”

Henny Penny also provides customers with easy-to-understand wall charts that feature step-by-step visual operating instructions. There’s even a QR code that links to video tutorials for additional training assistance. And, Krause says any of the company’s more than 90 distributors are also available to provide 24/7 assistance to customers.

#3: Trust Tech, BUT Remember: Employees are Still #1

Another consequence of COVID-19 and the subsequent labor shortage is the rapid-fire demand for automated food service equipment. “COVID and mass layoffs really lit a match and accelerated the pace of change everywhere, but especially in the restaurant industry, where we’re seeing significant staffing challenges. It’s like hyper-speed how quickly things are moving and changing,” says Frank.

One significant change that customers may notice, especially in quick-service restaurants (QSRs), is the integration of robotics, which are doing everything from flipping burgers and making tortilla chips, to baking pizzas and serving diners.

Some of Henny Penny’s customers, including some well-known global restaurant chains, are already using the company’s fryers in conjunction with robotic arms. Frank says while robotics is the future, and while Henny Penny certainly welcomes conversations with customers and robotics companies about integration, a lot is still being done on the equipment level that’s helping (and going to continue to help) operators.

“At Henny Penny, we are innovators. It’s in our DNA. Throughout our history, we’ve developed a reputation for solving some of the industry biggest challenges. 65 years ago, when we were founded, it was to help address a throughput problem at a small kitchen in Eaton, Ohio. Ever since then, our company has been solving the challenges that our customers and prospective customers face.”

The labor challenges that the industry is facing today are something Frank says have been on Henny Penny’s radar for quite some time. He says that’s why the innovative equipment Henny Penny engineers isn’t just designed to last, it’s also designed to reduce the amount of labor it takes to operate that piece of equipment.


Looking ahead, bots or ‘autonomous kitchen assistants’, as they’re called, will likely only continue to become more commonplace in the industry, but most everyone agrees they aren’t replacing workers; they’re helping with specific tasks.

Relating to the overall customer experience in the restaurant industry, Chef Brickman says while robots are here to stay, in the hospitality space, they’ll never replace the human touch, which ranks right up there with great tasting food. “You’re always going to need workers to ensure quality and consistency, but most importantly, a robot can’t care. They lack the personal touch that diners experience when they walk into their favorite restaurant and are greeted with a warm smile or personal ‘hello’ from a server who remembers them. That’s the personal touch you get with people, and that can’t be replaced.”

Manufacturing at the Business of the Year

Henny Penny Corporation, Eaton, Ohio, was recently named Dayton business Journal’s 2021 Business of the Year. It’s a terrific honor and we take a certain amount of pride in being recognized for the effort our employee-owners put in every day and the accomplishments that result. But it goes deeper than that. We see this as a validation of what we have, for decades, simply called the Henny Penny Culture.  

What is that difference? Is there something unique about this 900+ employee-owned manufacturing company that was founded in small-town Ohio and never budged? In this 5-part blog series, we’ll hear from some of the individuals who understand best the hows and the whys behind the things Henny Penny does and believes in that have made our company not only a Midwestern success story, but a highly regarded global brand in the commercial foodservice equipment industry.

Growth is associated with success. But how do you continue to grow in a mature industry and maintain focus on employee well-being, customer relationships and product reliability? For the Dayton Business Journal’s 2021 Business of the Year—a sixty-five-year-old equipment manufacturing company that’s never had a union, or a plant lay-off for that matter, and is now owned by its employees—the answer is deceptively simple:

Evolve your processes, leverage your capacity, and scale your systems.

Boyd Davis started as an assembly line worker at Henny Penny 42 years ago. Today he is Director of Manufacturing. “Back then to make a fry pot for a pressure fryer, you formed it, you welded it… that was one. Then you did it again. If you ran out of parts you had to wait until somebody made more.”

Manufacturing is completely different now. Davis described a 2-card Kanban system with roots in Just In Time manufacturing, where raw material, parts and components basically show up right as they are needed for assembly and are in turn replenished by the act of using them. “Factory automation gets a lot of press, but it’s really about how things flow through the plant. Flow is what keeps everything on track. When you lose that flow, it can take days to get it back.”

That’s one reason Henny Penny decided decades ago to bring the design and manufacture of electronic control boards and wiring in-house. It was an unusual move in the industry, and still is.

“When everything went digital, most of our competitors sent out for their boards,” said Amanda Creager, Production Manager in electronic assembly. “But control is such a core function in cooking and holding, and we didn’t want to have to depend on some other company’s design and delivery schedule.” Lately, Henny Penny has been producing 125,000 control boards and more than a million wire harnesses a year. And it’s all part of the flow.

Not that automation isn’t important. It’s actually vital, especially now, when manufacturers like Henny Penny are struggling to hire enough workers. “By automating systems and processes, we gain the ability to increase production capacity with our current workforce,” says Davis.

In the past five years, Henny Penny has beefed up its fabrication process with two digitally controlled fiber optic lasers and a brand-new panel bender that turns steel “flats” (cut by those lasers) into the proper three-dimensional shapes needed for a wide variety of parts.

“The newer machines are simply faster, better and more accurate,” said Davis. “And the beauty of it is that an automated process can run at night when no one is here. We have always promised careers with a good work-life balance. Automation helps us deliver on that.”

In fact, Davis believes the biggest innovation in manufacturing to date for Henny Penny goes beyond technology and automation. When ownership was transferred to employees through the 2015 ESOP, the company changed the way it defines roles and pays for skills to something called Empowered Ownership.

“The concept can be explained in three steps: Select a job that aligns with your skill, work towards mastering that skill, then share your knowledge to help others become better. When everyone takes ownership in what they do, everybody wins! Empowered Ownership gives individuals in the manufacturing workforce a very clear path for learning and advancement. We’re improving people as well as processes. And that has changed the company.”

The ownership layer fits snugly over mindset of continuous improvement that has always been part of Henny Penny culture. As the company outgrows its entrenched processes, the challenge becomes achieving consistency across all departments.

“We’re trying to institutionalize tribal knowledge,” said Joe Meadows, Manager of Quality Assurance and Engineering Services. “Someone has been welding fry pots for twenty years. How do we capture and communicate that experience? There are people here who can look at the lid to a pressure fryer and say that it just doesn’t look right. It can meet all the specs, but just not look like part of a Henny Penny product. And they’re right. How do we capture and propagate that knowledge and understanding?”

That’s where Quality Assurance (QA) comes in. The purpose of QA is to make sure every process is creating quality all the time. It does this, Meadows says, by seeking out and eliminating the opportunities for bad products to be made. As manufacturing becomes more specialized, so does the need for QA specialists in measurement, metallurgy, and instrumentation to continually examine processes, evaluate risk and qualify suppliers. “We’re the ones that are always thinking: How can we mess things up? How can we prevent it? How can we track down how it happened and resolve the issue?

“There’s a different attitude around here. Everybody believes we already make the best products in the world, and they still want to improve. That translates into how they come to work every day and what they do when they get here. It’s a level of commitment and competence surrounding what they do that I haven’t seen elsewhere.”

When you’re used to taking the long view, the path through difficult times is often clearer. The course of action Henny Penny took over the months and years of pandemic upheaval bears this out.

“When the bottom dropped out in April 2020 our competitors were laying people off,” said Meadows. “But we didn’t let anyone go. We were working three days a week and getting paid for five. We were still buying from suppliers. We didn’t change our lead times. We were all there, ready to go when things came roaring back.”

Davis called it good planning. As the economy emerged from the nationwide shutdown, Henny Penny faced an unprecedented demand from customers for equipment and parts.  “We were the ones that had what they needed, and we delivered on that. And the reason it happened is because our leadership recognized what we were up against and took action.”

Through it all Henny Penny managed to hit a moving target: By the end of 2021 the company had shipped 21 percent more than the production forecast. Meanwhile warranty claims, a measure of manufacturing performance, were 20 percent under budget based on the original forecast.

Davis says he’s never seen anything like it. “We’ve been at complete capacity on every single line, and 2022 looks like more of the same. All we can really do is to make sure our people have the training, the opportunity, the parts and the fixtures to do the job at the highest level. Somehow, they keep figuring out a way to do it. It’s hard to explain but it’s awesome to watch!”

“Everybody just seems to focus harder when the demand increases from our customers for the equipment they need,” said Meadows. “There’s really no other explanation.”

An emphasis on systems, communication and consistency has certainly helped. Those things, coupled with the guidance of Corporate Social Responsibility, have also helped Henny Penny build sustainability into its products and the overall environmental impact of its operations. We’ll take a closer look at this subject in Part 4.

Countryside Deli Case Study

When Corey DiGiovanni claims that Countryside Deli cooks a ton of fried chicken, he’s serious. “We go through about two thousand pounds of eight-piece pressure-fried chicken a week,” said DiGiovanni, owner and operator of this Western Pennsylvania, single-location deli/restaurant/catering business. “We absolutely crank it out, especially on Saturdays. Plus five hundred pounds of tenders, and two hundred pounds of cod on Fridays.”

The Countryside Deli features a carryout storefront with a Henny Penny heated merchandiser and seating for 125 in a 7,000 square foot restaurant with party room. “We’re really well-known around here for our fried chicken,” said DiGiovanni. Countryside Deli’s 8-piece chicken and tenders are delivered fresh and hand breaded before pressure frying. DiGiovanni swears by Henny Penny breading and seasonings, which they also use for their fish sandwich. “Last year, we won best local fish fry,” he laughed. “So I guess that makes it some pretty good breading!”


Learn more:

Jestic-ChikN Case Study

Launched early in 2017 following the success of sister brand Chick ‘n’ Sours, Chik’N is a quick service restaurant (QSR), conveniently located on Bakers Street in the heart of London. With a menu targeting the high-end, fast casual market, founders David Wolanski and Carl Clarke collaborated with Development Chef Ash Mair to create a standout menu.

“Our main focus is using the very best ingredients for our offering.” Ash
starts. “We serve organic, free-range chicken, sourced from a farm in
Somerset where they’re free to forage outside on a diet of corn and cereals.
We also offer fresh and seasonal vegetables, the finest potato buns, and
even a range of homemade sauces to help us to really stand out in this

Learn more:

Jestic – Riot Chicken Case Study

Riot Chicken is the brainchild of entrepreneur Khalid Al-Qaqa, and since his first location opened in May of 2019, the promise of ‘Your Chicken Your Way’ is proving very popular with customers.

Khalid took two years to research, develop and hone the Riot Chicken concept as he knew that succeeding in the competitive fried chicken QSR market would require a clear proposition with a focus on freshness and quality: “We wanted to be different, to in effect ‘riot’ against conventional High Street fried chicken shops. We do not offer a mind-boggling number of meal options. We simply offer quality, fresh chicken that customers can choose to have fried or grilled, original or spicy. If they want five wings with two grilled and three fried, that’s what they’ll get.”

Learn more:

Jestic-Perfectionist’s Cafe Case Study

The Perfectionist’s Café is one of five unique restaurant concepts operated by the internationally renowned Fat Duck Group, headquartered in Berkshire, England. Following two hugely successful TV series and two subsequent books, Heston Blumenthal and his team opened The Perfectionist’s Café in 2014.

He joined forces with Executive Chef Ashley Palmer-Watts and Chef Manager, Julian O’Neill, who set out to create a concept that would inspire and nourish those traveling to exotic locations across the globe. With the help of Jestic Foodservice Solutions – Henny Penny distributor for the UK – the restaurant went on to become a favorite of hungrypassengers in Terminal 2 of the London Heathrow Airport.

“We were looking for food that Brits love to eat, but done in a way that was not only quick, but also used the very best ingredients.” Julian said. “Our strapline is ‘Fantastic Food… Fast’ and we stand by that. We create our dishes using the finest ingredients yet achieve a maximum service time of just 11 minutes – always bearing in mind our guests are limited on time as they wait to board their plane.”

Read and Learn more:

The Future of Virtual Restaurants in a Post-pandemic World

For restaurant operators, 2022 will be a pivotal year filled with promise, challenges, and change. It’s promising because as coronavirus cases continue to decline, medical experts believe the pandemic phase of COVID-19 is nearing an end, and that means a full return to in-person dining cannot be far behind.

That’s certainly welcome news for restaurant operators who faced unprecedented challenges during the past two years.  But, what does that translate into for virtual restaurants, which boomed during the pandemic? How large of a role will they play in the industry’s future? As more customers return to in-person dining, will consumer interest in ordering from ghost kitchens and virtual restaurants wane? And, what will it take to remain relevant amidst all the changes ahead?

We spoke with two leading restaurant industry experts about what they believe is critical to navigating the transition back to “normal” and how to come out on the other side profitable and with even more potential than before COVID.

It’s a Digital World. Embrace It!  

As is often the case…necessity is the mother of invention. That was certainly the case for restaurant operators who had to pivot in a significant way during the pandemic just to survive.  Unfortunately, many didn’t survive COVID shutdowns and an estimated 90,000 restaurants in the U.S. remain either temporarily or permanently closed.  Those who did survive relied exclusively on takeout and delivery, which became their lifelines. And, since delivery service isn’t something most restaurants offer, they turned to third-party delivery service providers (DSPs) with their user-friendly apps for help.  In fact, while most industries struggled during the pandemic, the food delivery service and app market saw explosive growth.  In a recent survey focusing on delivery and digital ordering, nearly 60% of consumers said they use a mobile app when ordering takeout. What’s more, customers surveyed said they’d welcome even more technology and would be open to automated voice ordering and even robot or drone-delivered food.

No one knows better about the benefits associated with embracing the new digital-enabled era than Marc Butler, Senior Vice President of Strategic Planning at HOA Brands, which is the franchisor of Hooters, as well as the fast-casual brand, Hoots Wings.

Butler says virtual restaurants are a real trend in the industry right now and one he doesn’t see going away. HOA isn’t new to the virtual restaurant space, having launched its first virtual concept four years ago, after being approached by a DSP eager to add more virtual brands to its platform.

“Uber Eats came to us with a unique proposition involving virtual brands and the Dallas market. At the time, they were seeing a high degree of searches for burgers via their platform, but said there weren’t enough burger concepts to meet demand.  Dallas is an important market to us, so we decided the time was right to develop a virtual concept focusing on burgers.”

Butler said while burgers are something that’s always been on their menu, a lot of people didn’t know they sold burgers. “So, we developed our first virtual restaurant concept: Hootie’s Burger Bar. We started testing it, initially in the Dallas market and ultimately, because of promising sales, we expanded it through our entire system. And, today, burgers account for about 10 percent of our total sales.”

Post Pandemic Rx for Virtual Restaurants

Virtual restaurants, like Hootie’s Burger Bar, as well as thousands of others, exist exclusively online and are delivery only. Orders are placed via DSP apps, the restaurant’s own app or the restaurant’s website.  For existing brick and mortar restaurants, rolling out a virtual brand is an ideal way to capture incremental sales without the overhead costs associated with opening a new restaurant.

“Restaurant operators often ask me whether virtual brands are right for everyone, and my answer is they can be,” says Gregg Brickman, Corporate Executive Chef with Henny Penny. Before joining the leading global supplier of commercial foodservice equipment, Brickman was Sr. Director of Culinary Innovation at HOA Brands.  He also worked with the renowned chef Wolfgang Puck.

Apart from staying abreast of trends and technological advances, Brickman and Butler say there are three primary things operators should focus on to ensure their virtual restaurants remain relevant:

Focus on What You Do Best.

Yes, it’s important to know the market and identify any existing opportunities, but Brickman says because it’s delivery, you lose control after the order leaves the restaurant. “Reserve the ultra-innovative, elaborate recipes for in-restaurant dining. With virtual restaurants, what you want to focus on is simplicity because with home delivery, what I’ve found customers want the most is great tasting comfort food.”

Be Consistent!

Brickman says you’re never going to get something that’s quite as good as what you’re served in a restaurant. But he says a dish that’s as close to being restaurant quality delivered to your house is the next best thing. Achieving that isn’t easy, but Brickman says having the right equipment is integral to ensuring consistency. “The biggest things with chefs are consistency and control. And, with home delivery, you’re losing part of that equation.” Brickman says with Henny Penny’s fryers and combi ovens, restaurant operators get the features they need to deliver the consistency their customers want.

Henny Penny Fryers

Brickman says there’s a reason the biggest names in foodservice fry with Henny Penny. “Our fryers aren’t just metal boxes that heat oil up to 350 degrees, they come equipped with automatic top off, and when you introduce fresh oil, they maintain exact, consistent temperatures. You also have automatic filtration, which filters out impurities, ensuring that the first guest gets the same great tasting food as the last guest.”

Henny Penny Combi Ovens

The FlexFusion Platinum Series Combi Oven is another product Brickman says will help virtual restaurant operators ensure consistency.  “Our combi ovens come equipped with more than 250 recipes programmed right into the units. So, whether you’re baking, steaming, roasting, grilling or sous vide a dish, it’s going to help operators produce the same consistent product time and time again.

Keep it Simple!

With HOA Brands, which now has three virtual restaurants and is posed to open more in the future, Butler says understanding what you want to accomplish is essential. “I’d recommend starting by looking at your existing menu and asking yourself ‘what do I want to build awareness of?’ In our case, it was burgers.” Above all else, Butler says keep it simple and avoid “crazy” builds with 10 or more ingredients, which will only complicate things from an operational standpoint and overwhelm the customer.

Is It Worth It?

In the restaurant industry, where profit margins have historically been extremely tight, today’s operators now have to deal with increasing costs brought about by inflation, not to mention grappling with staffing and supply chain shortages.  So, in the final analysis, is investing in a virtual brand worth it?  Both Brickman and Butler agree that no matter if you’re a mom and pop single unit restaurant or a global brand with hundreds of stores worldwide, virtual restaurants can bolster profits. “At HOA Brands, it’s definitely been worth it.  For all three of our virtual concepts, we have data that suggests a high percentage of these orders are incremental.  Almost three quarters of the orders are placed by customers who have never ordered from our core Hooters brand before.”

To put the profit potential in perspective, Butler says their three virtual restaurants are generating about the same volume associated with several established brick and mortar Hooters restaurants.

“In the virtual restaurant space, the profit potential might not be in the tens of millions of dollars, but with the incremental sale, a lot of smaller numbers can add up to something big.”

Ready to explore the possibilities of virtual restaurants? At Henny Penny, our global network of distributors can help with everything from menu development and implementation to calculating your return on investment. Click here to find your local distributor and get started.

Customer Services at the Business of the Year

Henny Penny Corporation, Eaton, Ohio, was recently named Dayton Business Journal’s 2021 Business of the Year. It’s a terrific honor and we take a certain amount of pride in being recognized for the effort our employee-owners put in every day and the accomplishments that result. But it goes deeper than that. We see this as a validation of what we have, for decades, simply called the Henny Penny Culture. 

What is that difference? Is there something unique about this 900+ employee-owner manufacturing company that was founded in small-town Ohio and never budged? In this 5-part blog series, we’ll hear from some of the individuals who understand best the hows and the whys behind the things Henny Penny does and believes in that have made our company not only a Midwestern success story, but a highly regarded global brand in the commercial foodservice equipment industry.

Customer care is as important as employee wellbeing at Dayton Business Journal’s 2021 Business of the Year. And it shows. Some of the largest global restaurant brands have been doing business with Henny Penny for decades. We often attribute this loyalty to the quality of the products we make or our ability to understand our partners’ unique needs. But really, it boils down to how well we take care for our customers both over time  and on a day-to-day basis. How we treat customers is one of the things that sets us apart.

Very few foodservice equipment manufacturers, for instance, rely on the independent distributor model, preferring to sell directly to customers or through agents and dealers. Our global network of more than 90 exclusive distributors gives us incredible market reach. Each distributor is the face of Henny Penny in that locality or region. Our brand is their business. They’re working on Henny Penny every day. What customer is not going to benefit from that?

“If you think about it,” says Todd Hennigan, Henny Penny Vice President of Services, “most of the experience a customer has with our company is on the service side of the business. From the moment you place an order, through delivery, installation, training and after-sales support—it’s all service.”

A big selling point of the exclusive distributor model is that customers have a single point of contact to help with everything from sales through start-up and employee training. At the same time, Henny Penny Services looks to establish multiple points of contact with customers and distributors so information gets where it needs to go quickly. It’s also the way Henny Penny strengthens relationships with new customers.

Kevin Hilbert, Director of Technical Services put it succinctly: “Henny Penny is a premium brand. If you are going to be a premium brand, you need to provide premium support.”

Hilbert was referring to the red-carpet treatment his Customer Care Team provides when onboarding new customers or addressing a technical issue with existing customers. “They’re tech ninjas. They’ll go anywhere and do anything to make it right. They help internally if there’s an issue with equipment or shipping or installation so the problem never reaches the customer. They deploy externally when a customer can’t resolve something on their own or at the distributor level.”

On the other side of that coin, a technical services hotline saves Henny Penny customers roughly $1 million annually by resolving one out of three service calls remotely. Trained technicians can be reached 24/7 by phone, text, or online chat. Add to that a merged reality service tool that lets remote techs point or mark in real time on a user’s shared mobile screen grab to show how things work as they talk through the solution.

“We’re generally more advanced than other manufacturers when it comes to service,” Hilbert says. “Stuff like our merged reality tool might seem kind of exotic. But it’s not really. We’re just using technology to meet people where they are at, and ninety-nine percent of the time that’s in the kitchen in the middle of a shift. There’s a QR code right on the equipment. Crew members just use their phone to snap the code and get help.”

Hilbert says most technical service outlets don’t do troubleshooting over the phone. “Every time they get a call someone has to roll a truck. That’s a lot of expensive hourly labor. We look to minimize our customer’s cost of service. But it’s even more important to minimize their equipment downtime. If it’s a simple fix and we get your fryer back on line in half an hour instead of tomorrow, that’s a big deal. You aren’t missing orders or disrupting production.”

Gathering every external function of the company under the conceptual umbrella of Customer Experience allows Services to be active in a much broader space, routinely connecting with sales, marketing, product management.

According to Amber Brandt, Manager of Customer Services and Credit, Henny Penny logs more than 40,000 customer “touches” per month just from its service tools. These range from views of training and operations videos on the company’s YouTube channel to interactivity in the HP Service Cloud and help from the 24-hour Tech Hotline.

“We use a data-driven process to make sure we’re doing what is right for the customer,” Brandt said. “Order processing time, for instance. How do we make sure they are being taken care of? It’s a way of challenging ourselves that’s built into the system.”

It must be working. Customer satisfaction surveys average 9.5 out of 10. This isn’t just about having customers rate their experience. It’s about gathering information to address a customer’s ongoing needs. When this activity reveals a specific issue, our contact center can escalate it immediately to our Customer Care Team. And when the Customer Care Team is done taking care of the problem, they will likely have addressed additional or upcoming preventative care points with that customer.

The past eighteen months have been particularly hard on the spare parts side of the Services business. Like every other manufacturer, the current challenge is to manage the supply chain to keep up with demand. “Everything came back strong in 2021,” said Kim Wright, Director of Parts and Supplies. “That means we’re experiencing labor and commodities shortages with our suppliers, as well. We’ve been less impacted than most because we make sure our distribution partners have enough of what they need before they need it.”

That sounds simple enough. But what it requires is fairly unusual.

“Not too many manufacturers have a separate fabrication and assembly line for spare parts,” Wright says. Roughly a third of the total number of maintenance and repair parts required to service Henny Penny equipment are made on this line and stocked onsite in a parts tower, available for immediate shipping. Both common maintenance items and critical components are also pushed out to the inventories of Henny Penny distributors, kitchen equipment suppliers and parts warehouses around the world.

Wright and her team provide a list of critical parts to Henny Penny service and repair partners. These parts must always be on their trucks in order to perform a first-time fix when equipment is down. Certain other non-critical maintenance parts must also be on hand at the partner’s location.

“We basically over communicate,” she said. “It takes a complete focus on communication with our partners so everyone understands what they are dealing with in terms of customer repair and maintenance schedules. Together, we’ve developed a “most wanted” parts list. With the right communication, our partners stock what they need, which means we effectively have parts inventory everywhere.”

It’s one thing to talk about customer service. It’s another thing to actually go out and do it day in and day out, to believe in what you are doing, and to provide leadership and support to the people who do it.

Hilbert praised the cohesiveness of his team. “None of us can do our job without the others to help out. If you make a mistake, it’s a learning opportunity. As long as you are trying to do the right thing, we fully support whatever you do. You will never be in trouble for helping a customer.”

Hennigan: “Everybody here is passionate about CX (customer experience.) We don’t have people that say ‘this isn’t my job.’ The technology we deploy lets us run with that and manage it effectively. At the same time, we have a responsibility to our employees and customers to build a process that scales up, that gets easier not harder, as we grow. We can do right by our customers without having to be heroes every day.”

Continued growth also means being able to scale up efficiencies in manufacturing while maintaining product quality. We’ll take a look at this topic in Part 3.

Lee’s Case Study

Is it even possible for a fry vat that’s been hard at work in a chicken QSR for 21 years to look brand new? According to a LinkedIn post from Bill Sparks, VP of Operations and Franchise Sales for Lee’s Famous Recipe Fried Chicken, the answer is yes.

Learn more!–Lee’s Case study