By Tim O'Connor
Eating is as much a visual experience as it is about the taste. But, today’s diners are no longer content to wait for their meals. They want their eyes to feast as soon as they walk into a restaurant. They want to watch their dish be prepared, not only because it adds to the entertainment of the meal, but also because they can ensure the ingredients are fresh and the cooking process is sanitary.
The open-kitchen trend has touched on every segment of the foodservice industry. Fast-casual restaurants prepare orders in an assembly-line fashion directly in front of the customer and large chains such as Dominos are redesigning their standard layouts to turn food preparation into theater. Meanwhile, full-service establishments are looking for ways to bring the kitchen into the dining room. At every level, operators need help identifying and finding the equipment that will enable their spin on the open-kitchen concept. “Customers really seem to enjoy a glimpse of the kitchen in operation and the transparency in the preparation of their food that it provides,” says James McDowell, president of Jackson WWS.
For the Kentucky-based manufacturer, the question was how to bring its warewashing machines to the front of the house so chefs and bartenders can maintain a supply of clean dishes and glasses without interrupting food preparation or spoiling the show. The last thing a customer wants to see is a pillar of steam rushing out of a hot dishwasher right next to where their salad is being made. Jackson WWS found a solution in its Steam Elimination and Energy Recovery units (SEER), which use hot water vapor to preheat incoming rinse water to clean dishware. The compact SEER undercounter dish and glasswasher machines generate only a small amount of steam, allowing them to be used in the front of the house while still delivering the sanitation of traditional dishwashers.
McDowell says SEER machines are especially well-suited for foodservice operations that pride themselves on their cocktail, craft beer, and wine selection—an increasingly important part of the market as patrons’ tastes become more discerning. “The SEER units deliver high-temp results, avoiding the chlorine residue that can spoil the drink experience while not releasing steam into the area where customers are present,” he notes.
The SEER units are one of 19 distinct products Jackson WWS has released since it was purchased in 2013 by Hoshizaki USA Holdings, the American arm of a Japanese manufacturer of ice makers, refrigerators, and beverage dispensers. A major global manufacturer, Hoshizaki provided Jackson WWS with the support it needed to add manufacturing capacity and achieve double-digit growth each year since the acquisition. “I’m amazed with the support Hoshizaki has given us in allowing us to invest in the facility and control our own destiny,” McDowell says.
McDowell has been an important part of that destiny since he joined the company in 2006. In that time, he’s worked under three ownership groups to enhance Jackson WWS’ product lineup. Today, the company’s catalog covers a wide range of dishwashing equipment, from small undercounter machines to large flights capable of cleaning 14,000 dishes per hour.
Although it is not the largest commerical dishwasher manufacturer, McDowell believes Jackson WWS can match its bigger competitors on quality while delivering a price point 10 to 15 percent lower. “That makes us one of the leading value propositions in the industry,” he contends. “We’re going to provide a good quality machine that will stand up to anyone’s.”
The lower price point of Jackson WWS’ machines is only the start of how the company helps foodservice operators save money. It also offers an ENERGY STAR® certified model in nearly every product category, leading to less energy consumption and lower operating costs for buyers. “Having an ENERGY STAR® certified unit has sort of become the minimal acceptable requirement for a manufacturer,” McDowell says.
Although Jackson WWS has a good handle on end-user requirements in the American market, McDowell is always looking at what trends and advancements are on the horizon. Many of the biggest leaps in foodservice equipment technology are coming out of Europe, making HOST Milano an important showcase for business leaders such as McDowell to attend. “I am always eager to learn what the European manufacturers have been up to,” he says. “It seems that so many innovations originate in the European markets and migrate to North America.”
In the warewashing space, McDowell says European manufacturers led the way on ventless and energy-recovery units and continue to impress with their advancements. “I am particularly interested in the success that some European dishmachine manufacturers have had with reverse osmosis filtration,” McDowell notes. “This seems to be a great way to keep the water inside the machine cleaner, extending the life of the machine while making operation easier.”
McDowell also has taken note of how Jackson WWS’ overseas counterparts design the equipment to be more visually attractive with the use of radial shapes and digital readouts. By drawing inspiration from the look of European machines, Jackson WWS can offer equipment that will blend in better with open kitchen concepts. “As we look to bring our equipment from the back of the house to the front, I think we can benefit from the more aesthetically pleasing designs of some European equipment,” McDowell says.
Better aesthetics will change the way diners look at warewashing machines, however, McDowell believes the next major shift in the segment will occur on the inside, courtesy of the looming advancements in artificial intelligence and diagnostics. “I think there is a tremendous opportunity to exploit the data that can be captured by customer service kiosks,” he says. “I can imagine that data being used for everything from re-ordering supplies and predicting needed staffing levels, to shutting idle equipment down to save electricity.”
Although he has some ideas on how Jackson WWS’ machines can take advantage of AI, McDowell concedes it is difficult to predict how technology will change restaurant operations and consumer tastes even in the near future. “I believe that as technology advances so will the demands of the consumer in ways that are hard to imagine,” he says. “Five years ago, I would have never imagined that I would have an app on my iPhone that enables me to order a burger and fries from a national chain, get in my car, drive to their store, and have them almost immediately bring my order out to me.”
Even if the foodservice market sees monumental shifts over the next half decade, he adds, “Jackson WWS will always have a role when it comes to cleanliness and food safety. I think that in the warewashing space, what is important is that we never forget that our job is to provide clean and sanitized dishes, glassware, and utensils, ensuring that the dining experience is never impacted in a negative way by a dirty dish.” ■