Is a 40+ Minute Hold Time for Fries Believable? Jethro’s BBQ Finds Out.
Oct 25, 2021
Like so many full-service restaurants, Jethro’s BBQ, an emerging chain of barbecue restaurants in Des Moines, Iowa, was forced to go to a 100% takeout-and-delivery model by the pandemic.
“The COVID pandemic hit the Midwest a lot quicker than the rest of the country, so we had only 12-18 hours to convert into full takeout,” says Dominic Iannarelli, Executive Chef and Director of Restaurants at Splash Seafood and Jethro’s BBQ. “Luckily for Jethro’s, barbecue was already a very, very popular takeout option.”
Jethro’s BBQ has built an enthusiastic following by highlighting scratch cooking—including Iowa-sourced meats smoked in-house—and their fun, sport-bar atmosphere. Since their launch in 2008, one unit has grown into eight serving the Des Moines metro area.
Takeout has long been a part of Jethro’s business model, so Iannarelli expected a relatively smooth transition. It was bumpier than expected.
No one likes cold, soggy fries
“Our guests’ expectations don’t change [with takeout]. They want their meat to be smokey and juicy. They want their sides to be hot. They want their fried foods crispy, says Iannarelli. “We thought we were good at it. We learned a lot in those first few days.”
French fries, which constitute 40% of the sides ordered at Jethro’s, quickly became a magnet for complaints from off-premise customers. And Jethro’s existing clear-coated fry simply wasn’t up to the task.
“First and foremost, they didn’t hold their temperature as well. They got soggier quicker, even on a guest that only lives 10 minutes away,” he explains.
Jethro’s BBQ was not alone. Soggy delivery fries have proven to be the #1 driver of complaints on delivery orders.
Are Simplot Conquest® Delivery+® Fries too good to be true?
With takeout and delivery their only channels for sales, the Jethro’s team knew they needed to find a solution fast.
“Luckily, Simplot came to the table with some new products, things that we never thought would have worked,” says Iannarelli.
In mid-2020, Simplot sales rep Mike Murphy introduced Iannarelli to Simplot’s new Conquest® Delivery+®. Naturally, the Jethro’s team was eager to test Simplot’s claims of 40+ minute hold time and the ability to reheat in a microwave to see if they were true.
“We always like to test [in one of our kitchens] because we really want to see how it performs. So we dropped it in a fryer right before lunch and ate some [of them] against the product we were using to see if it still tasted really natural,” remembers Iannarelli. “And then we let them sit in a Styrofoam box for an hour, and then put them into a microwave just to see if it would really work—and it did. I was shocked.”
“We get a lot of new products brought to us. Sometimes they’re applicable; sometimes they’re not. This product is by far the best product we have seen to really solve a problem we were having."
After the switch, the complaints dried up and sales of fries rose.
“We’ve definitely noticed more fry sales since we switched.”
A natural look and flavor as good as the 40+ minute hold time
Iannarelli was careful to choose a fry where the batter didn’t overwhelm the natural potato look and flavor.
“Our guests are expecting a natural cut [skin-on] fry, as close to fresh-cut fry as they can get. The Conquest® Delivery+® fry has got to be as close to a hand-cut fry as you can get.”
Another benefit: he only needs to stock one “natural” to cover all of his orders, no matter where the customers are, simplifying operations in his fast-moving kitchens.
“We’re definitely using this fry for both our dine-in and our carry-out orders,” he says.
Longer hold time = less waste
While ensuring guests get crisp fries is essential, another valuable—and often overlooked—benefit of 40+ minute hold time has been reduced waste. Simply put, fewer fries need to be discarded after going stale in the holding station.
“With the tons of product that we go through in the Des Moines market, to save 10% per case of fries that isn’t getting wasted is huge,” he says. “It sounds like pennies, but that adds up really, really quick.
Jethro’s BBQ customers react to reheatable fries
Conventional wisdom says you can’t reheat fries in a microwave; it ruins their texture. Fortunately, there’s nothing conventional about Simplot Conquest® Delivery+® Fries.
These fries were designed to reheat in a microwave in just 15-20 seconds for fresh-from-the-fryer temperature and crispness.
For people who haven’t tried them, it comes as a big—and welcome—surprise.
“We were selling big meal packs during COVID, stuff that a family of four could eat more than once. And having a french fry that they’re confident they can reheat properly has definitely helped our guest experience. And again, seeing that we’re purchasing more fries than we have in the past tells me that our guests want it,” he says.
COVID or not, there’s no going back now
Jethro’s dining room has reopened. But Iannarelli suspects that the trend toward takeout and delivery is here to stay.
“It’s a trend that we see people are starting to get more comfortable with, and we aren’t looking to switch from this product anytime soon,” says Iannarelli. “We certainly aren’t getting any complaints—and we had gotten a lot of them in the past, especially on the takeout side,” says Iannarelli. “It’s truly a great fix for a big problem in the industry.”