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A contemporary sports bar and restaurant perched above the casino feature equipment that enables staff to produce sophisticated, yet casual, food and drinks. Live entertainment and an interactive bar on the main casino level contribute to the venue's popularity.
When voters in West Virginia legalized table games in the state two years ago, it meant the dawning of a new age at the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town. Until the July 2009 vote, only slots were allowed in the state. "After this historic change, we were able to build more space onto the casino—which was then 11 years old. This allowed us to build the Sky Box Sports Bar and H Lounge," says James Boutcher, vice president of operations at the Charles Town casino.
Boutcher brought many years of experience in food and beverage in other casinos and in the Air Force to his current position. Since he arrived at the property eight years ago, the casino and foodservice facilities have tripled in size. Under Boucher's direction, restaurants added to the property, in addition to the Sky Box and H Lounge, are the Final Cut Steakhouse and the Epic Buffet. Another restaurant was renovated to become Zen Noodle. Foodservice design for these projects was provided by Theodore Barber & Company, Inc., with architecture by Urban Design and Interior Design by Genesis Associates.
"We wanted to bring excitement to the expanded area of the casino and add a venue for sports fans because we didn't have anything like that in other foodservice areas," Boutcher says. "We also didn't have a space with so many televisions and a stage for live entertainment and casino drawings. By putting the two together—the Sky Box is on a level above the H Lounge ["H" is for Hollywood]—we can build synergy between."
"This split-level, multipurpose facility provides guests with dining and entertainment options in a contemporary environment that takes the sports bar concept into the 21st century," says the project's foodservice consultant, Theodore Barber, principal of Theodore Barber & Co.
When entering Sky Box Sports Bar, guests see mounted on the walls more than 50 televisions, all of which are controlled by a central remote. Additional personal televisions sit on many tables along with touch-screen control pads. The room contains seating for 177 guests and a full-service bar with 15 seats, interactive LCD menu boards and décor with a bright color palette of reds, yellows and purples. In the H Lounge, which contains seating for 165 guests, an entertainment stage features an 18-foot video wall.
"We used a bent-wood ceiling, using an isometric mineral, to bring the two-story party-zone space together," says interior designer Roger Charles, principal, Genesis Associates.
Once the theme for the restaurant and lounge was chosen, a team — under the guidance of Boutcher and Brian Collins, executive chef, who came to Hollywood Casino in Charles Town in 2009 — developed the menu. Collins, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, had previously worked at Atlantic City casinos, high-end resorts on the West Coast, the George Washington Hotel in Winchester, Va., and Westin Tysons Corner, also in Virginia. After traveling to many sports bars, the team selected a menu featuring pizza, sandwiches, burgers and comfort foods. Staff emphasizes unusual presentation of the sophisticated casual menu. For instance, some soups, sauces and desserts are served in mason jars.
Working from Back to Front
Deliveries arrive at a single loading dock that serves only the Sky Box restaurant and H Lounge. Two walk-in coolers and a freezer located outside the main building hold deliveries for the Sky Box restaurant kitchen. Staff bring pallets from trucks directly into the coolers so that food is almost always within a chilled temperature zone.
"The loading dock, coolers, freezer and pump rooms for liquor, beer and soda are separate from the other foodservice facilities and are not receiving any services from other foodservice operations," Boutcher says. "We had to take this into consideration when building the bar, restaurant and lounge. We used a space that wasn't being used and also punched out a wall to give us more space for the coolers. Adding the space was our biggest challenge when designing this facility. Because the entire kitchen must be self-sustaining, the facility had to be designed for speed, efficiency and staff convenience. We had to consider how to minimize the steps that the staff members need to take to get the food out the door. This kitchen allows us to do this. We worked with Ted to make sure everything fit and the flow worked for all our criteria."
A small prep area with upright reach-in refrigerators, ingredient bins, a countertop slicer, manual pizza press, can opener, countertop vertical cutter mixer and automated date- coding machine supports the main cookline. Staff working here make crab cakes, meat loaf patty burgers, mashed potatoes and salad dressings, and prepare chicken and prime rib.
Most of the restaurant's production takes place on the cookline. Here, at one end of the line, staff use a high-speed conveyor oven for cooking pizzas with ingredients such as barbecue chicken, shrimp and chicken breasts. "We get an outrageously good pizza crust with this piece of equipment, which is used by many pizza chains," Collins says. "We can customize the flavor and texture profile. We feel this oven is quicker and more consistent than other equipment. It takes us about two and a half minutes to cook pizza from a raw state, and the product is consistent each time."
Collins also appreciates how easy it is to clean and maintain the equipment, and is also a fan of the oven's compact size. "It fits under the hood tightly," he says. "This is about a third the size of a stone-top oven."
Refrigerated drawers beneath the equipment keep proteins at safe temperatures and within easy reach of cooks working the cookline. "The cooks don't have to place proteins in ambient air, which contributes to safe cooking procedures," Barber says. These drawers and all refrigeration in the kitchen are connected to a remote system outside the building. "The remote compressors are oversized to make sure each refrigerator remains at the right temperature," Barber says.
An energy management system for the exhaust hood manages the fan speed to increase or decrease during busy and slower production periods, which regulates the amount of makeup air used and subsequently saves energy.
Next on the line, single French-top ranges with two rings heat sauces and stocks for chicken wings, the Asian basket, prime rib sandwich, signature barbecue dish, chipotle marinara, chili, corn and crab chowder, pizza, and three-cheese alfredo. A three-bay bank of fryers cooks menu items such as french fries, chicken fried steak, fish and chips, beer-battered cod, firecracker calamari and shrimp. The fryer bank is connected to a bulk-oil tubing system that allows staff to frequently filter oil. "We can do this twice a day and change oil in 15 minutes versus 45 minutes using other systems," Collins says.
Adjacent to the fryers, a 72-inch flattop griddle toasts buns and heats sandwiches. Sitting above the equipment, cheese melters warm traditional and twisted nachos and other foods that need heating at a consistent temperature before service. "We have quick access in and out and can keep the sauté pans on the bottom shelf to keep them hot at all times," Collins says.
Staff use convection ovens beneath the fryers to braise meat bones and finish dishes such as pan-seared salmon and chicken breasts. "Convection is preferable to traditional ovens because we don't lose heat as quickly, and it provides us with quicker backup for production," Collins says.
At the adjacent six-burner range, staff sauté vegetables and other ingredients for various dishes. A pasta pot also allows staff to dip and blanch vegetables before they are sent to the sauté pans. A resting station sits next to the range.
Further along the line, staff use a double-deck infrared broiler, which reaches 1600 degrees F to cook nine-ounce burgers, steaks and chicken. "We had so much success with this product in the steakhouse that we decided to use it in this restaurant, as well. This piece of equipment is phenomenal for giving proteins a good, hard sear and keeping the moisture in," Collins says. The broiler also produces one of the restaurant's most famous menu items, "The Beast," a two-pound burger served with a half pound of bacon, a head of lettuce, onion, a focaccia roll, a pound of fries and a pickle. The cost is free to customers who finish this in an hour (a timer is placed at the table). Only one customer has succeeded in this indulgent challenge to date.
At the end of the line, staff use a double convection oven for prep and production of chicken breasts for salads and for finishing ingredients for sandwiches. "The positioning of the oven is great because it doesn't interrupt other cooks and serves as a good in-and-out station," Collins says.
"Across an aisle, upright refrigerators have glass fronts, which allows staff to keep an eye on product quality and freshness at a glance," Collins says. "For example, chefs can walk the line and very quickly take out a stock for production."
At the pantry across the hall, a chef's counter has two refrigerated rails containing refrigerated drawers that hold salad mixes, sliced meats and other ingredients. On the top deck sit condiments, relishes, dressings and garnishes. The rails are fit with suspended lids. "Staff members take off the rails and slide them in above so they aren't in the way while they are working," Barber says.
Also at the chef's counter, a tray lock allows servers to place trays on the shelf so they can use both hands for preparation. "If we didn't use this tray lock, we would have had to make the landing wider, which infringes on walk space," Barber says.
Behind the rails are a quick-speed oven for heating paninis, a microwave oven, a combi oven and a salad crisper holding a house-made salad mix.
At each of three stations, POS systems with check printers allow staff to communicate about orders and coordinate preparation. In addition, the shelving is well lit. "We light the top and lower shelving so no shadows fall onto the food and so staff can easily see and therefore clean these areas," Barber says.
A dumbwaiter system behind the pantry allows staff to send food down to the lounge. Food is not currently offered in the lounge, and no specific date for service has been determined.
"The chef has a tough job because he must manage both the hot line and the pantry station," Collins says. "The chef must call out the food to both the hot and cold lines. At the middle station in front of the flattop and behind the line is the main station for the sous chef, who serves as a back-line expediter for the pizza and broiler stations. The sous chef receives information from the chef for the products they need to cook at their stations and the time to pick up finished orders. The chef calls out what he needs; the sous chef lets the chef know what is coming and when it is coming. The chef coordinates the information from the back line to the pantry to make sure everything comes together. The runners are on a schedule so food goes out to guests at the same time."
When designing the dishroom, energy savings and sanitation were primary considerations. A pass-through shelf holds soiled dishware delivered by servers. A scraper directs solid waste into one of two troughs, which wash water into one of two solar-powered waste collectors, accumulating solids and only discharging water-soluble waste into the waste lines, thereby keeping the system free of clogs and smells.
Also in this area, a high-powered soak machine cleans pots and pans. "After the broiler has been used for five to six hours, the soak technology allows us to easily clean the grills and grates with as little water as possible," Boutcher says. The dishwasher is also designed to use low levels of water.
Sanitation assistance is also provided by a floor-washing system that is part of a central system and is run by several remote stations throughout the kitchen. This allows the staff to wash with measured chemicals and scrub, wash and rinse without mop buckets and cotton mop heads.