centralized production

Central Ohio Energy (Mansfield, OH) opened its commissary about threeyears ago. Company executives saw a need for a fresh and consistent productand couldn't pinpoint a vendor that could provide the quality it needed andbe flexible about returns.

The Ohio chain operates nine locations: eight In-n-Out Marts and one Easy TripStore. The Easy Trip, which is larger than its sibling stores, serves as thehub for the chain's commissary operations. Coincidentally, Central Ohio Energyplans to migrate its older stores to the Easy Trip brand and model by the endof September. Any new stores will follow under that banner.

"We have a nice-size kitchen at the Easy Trip store and the commissary is inthere," says Tina Gerhart, the company's director of foodservice operations.The commissary area is designed to maximize workflow. A convection oven, prep-tablecooler units, commercial-size freezer and cooler, dishwashing area and storagespace for dry goods surround a central prep table.

"All we do are cold sandwiches," Gerhart says. "We also have a plastic wrapdispenser that heats up the wrap and seals the finished product. That machineis expensive, but when you're packaging and delivering, you need something that'sgoing to hold that wrap on. It's worth the investment. We usually go about threedays on our sandwiches.

"They make sandwiches on Tuesday and Friday," she adds. "They usually makeabout 300 per day on Tuesday. On Friday, they might up that number because there'sa race track in the area [that holds events on weekends]."

That volume is handled most times by two employees working a total of eighthours per week. Another employee loads the sandwiches on a van that deliversthe food items twice a week to each store on the day they're made.

"Deli sandwiches are pretty easy to make," Gerhart says. "We buy the meat sliced.I feel it's better for product quality and freshness. We're pulling only whatwe need and we're not stuck with a big hunk of meat left over. If we were larger-scale,it might be more economical to buy whole meat."

The chain sells about 1,200 sandwiches per week. About 600 of those are soldin eight of the chain's nine locations. Central Ohio Energy also operates onetruck stop in Monroeville that sells 600 per week by itself. Since the truckstop is bigger and a little farther from the Easy Trip commissary store, itmakes its own sandwiches in a dedicated area of the kitchen.

For now, Gerhart and her colleagues say they're better off taking control oftheir packaged sandwiches instead of buying from a vendor.

"It has been better because of the waste and the return policy," she says."Most of the sandwich vendors don't take back what you don't sell, so this enablesus to control waste. I would say our spoilage is about 3%. For the size of thestores we have right now, this is a good system. But we're always looking foranything new and fresh that would accommodate us."

One challenge Gerhart has experienced

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