Fresh To Order: The Future is ‘Fast Fine’

Pierre Panos wants each of his guests to have it all when it comes to their dining experience in one of his restaurants. He believes every guest deserves expedient, attentive service and freshly prepared food of outstanding quality. What truly sets Panos apart, however, is he believes all of this should be delivered in less than 10 minutes and for around $10.

Panos began his career in the hospitality sector at the tender age of 7 in his father’s restaurant business in South Africa. He worked his way up through the family’s fast food and fine dining establishments. He graduated college with a Chartered Accountant qualification and worked for five years for Coopers & Lybrand, the largest accounting and audit firm in the world at that time. Panos then decided to return to his roots and spent the next 15 years creating and owning what he calls “finer dining establishments.”

“There were all these restaurants with a $30 to $35 price point per person, so just a few steps from the fine-dining price point of $50 per person,” explains Panos, president and founder of Quality Service America (QS America), the holding company of Brookwood Grill, Papa John’s franchises, and most recently Fresh To Order (F2O).

“In 2003, after selling my Stoney River Legendary Steak concept to a publicly traded company, I decided that there just had to be a better way to get the same quality of food that I had been serving at my finer dining restaurants in front of guests, and without asking them to pay an arm and a leg for it,” explains Panos.

Seeing an underserved demand for quality food that is also affordable, Panos set out to develop a concept with a differentiated position within the fast-casual segment. Thus, F2O was born, and the term “Fast Fine” was coined. “Fast Fine” combines the food quality and upscale environment of fine-casual restaurants with the operational platform and price point of fast-casual restaurants.

F2O utilizes a consolidated cash register station, while replicating the ambiance of a fine-dining establishment through the use of soothing colors, clean lines and relaxing lighting. The dining tables and countertops are wood and granite, runners deliver food to the guests’ tables, and an open-air kitchen validates that food is made fresh to order.

Fresh, Fine, Fast

F2O specializes in contemporary American cuisine, serving chef-inspired salads, Panini sandwiches, soups and entrees that combine fresh ingredients and spices. Some of the F2O favorites are an Asian salad with a seared-almond and rosemary-encrusted tuna steak served on a bed of Asian slaw, pickled ginger and candied walnuts dressed in Dijon vinaigrette. F2O’s mushroom chicken entrée also remains a best seller and consists of flame-grilled chicken served atop a bed of garlic mashed potatoes, topped with freshly sautéed shitake mushrooms and mushroom sauce.

“We’re always looking for new menu items and new recipes, but because we’re quite discerning and selective, we will take as much time as is needed to make them ‘perfect’ before we put them on the menu,” says Panos. F2O puts every new dish through a rigorous round of testing, tweaking and refinement. Corporate Chef Jesse Gideon and Panos assess each recipe to ensure that every F2O restaurant will be able to replicate the finished product as it was tested, prepared and approved in the company’s research and development kitchen.

In addition, F2O recipes take into consideration market conditions, but Panos is not the kind to adopt a culinary trend if that trend doesn’t fit entirely within the brand standard of “incredible food.” For example, instead of producing a gourmet burger when they became all the rage in Atlanta, F2O whipped up a line of Better for You Burgers. One is a ginger-scallion tuna burger served with Asian slaw and horseradish aioli, and the other is a freshly prepared black bean burger made on-premise daily and served with avocado, the F2O signature corn salsa and house-pickled jalapenos. F2O’s culinary minds also decided to eschew the bun in favor of a whole-wheat flatbread to keep each sandwich under the 600-calorie mark.

“We wanted our Better for You Burgers to provide the same food appeal as actual typical burgers, while also delivering a delicious sandwich that’s still wholesome and healthy,” adds Panos. Both sandwiches have been well-received at all F2O locations as limited time-only offerings and it’s possible these burgers could make it onto the permanent menu in the near future.

F2O’s already wide range of recognizable favorites is continually being refreshed with additions from its product development pipeline. F2O chefs are always busy testing and refining new products that utilize the same set of ingredients, a technique that reinforces the kitchen’s versatility and efficiency. Currently, two entrees are being developed and tested for a roll out next spring.

Comfortable Growth

The reception among guests for F2O’s operational philosophy and its ability to present nuanced flavor profiles at an affordable price has been enthusiastic. The concept, which is headquartered in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta, Ga., will have eight open units by the end of 2012, including one in Terminal B of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The future looks bright for F2O, as the company plans to open 50 locations in the next five years, with an additional 50 in some stage of development.

“The important thing for us, though, is quality over quantity,” says Panos. “We don’t believe we have to be the biggest, but rather we must be the best. We’re not publicly owned, and if the right markers aren’t in place for us to grow our unit counts, then we will wait for the right opportunity at the right time to do so.”

For Panos and his Quality Service America concepts it’s not about making a quick buck; it’s about growing a strong brand that will endure over time. No matter where Fresh To Order sets its sights, its guests will surely get a taste for F2O’s commitment to “incredible food, service and facilities.”