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FE&SEditorial Archives2004 — February — Chain Profile

Passport: A Taste of Europe

Automatic pasta makers, combi ovens, countertop panini grills, refrigerated display cases and rotisseries are installed in this new concept's well-equipped prototypes, which promise to add an upscale dimension with a strong take-away component to fast-casual dining.

Ten months ago, a new fast-casual concept called Passport: A Taste of Europe made its debut in Cambridge, Mass. In the first quarter of 2004, a flagship location will open in Plymouth, Mass. Also in 2004, another prototype concept will be introduced in Ft. Lauderdale. The developers of Passport have set out to prove that a fast-casual dining outlet with a strong take-away component can excite customers' palates with flavors and food presentations normally found only at higher-priced, table-service restaurants.

Featured on the menu, which is prepared in a fully equipped open kitchen visible to customers, are rotisserie chicken made with a specialty spice blend; sandwiches and paninis comprised of ingredients including Austrian ham, Gruyere cheese, portobello mushrooms and artisan breads; soups; salads with smoked salmon and Dijon vinaigrette; authentic German sausages with imported mustards; and European pastries. At the larger prototype locations in Cambridge and Plymouth, a selection of retail foods and kitchen gadgets are also on sale.

Passport Restaurants Inc.
April 2002
Orlando, Fla.
Three prototypes. One in Cambridge, Mass.; one in Plymouth, Mass.; one in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Cambridge (gourmet take-away), 1,500-sq.-ft., 42 seats inside and 35 outside; Plymouth (suburban), 2,500-3,000-sq.-ft. with a retail section for gourmet foods and cooking gadgets, 50 seats, 35 outside (seasonal); and Ft. Lauderdale (express), for shopping malls and sports centers, 800-sq.-ft. with food court seats.
Average Check
Projected Annual Revenue
$1.1 million for the city and suburban prototypes; $750,000 for express units. In the future, owners would also like to franchise Passport's concept.
Cambridge, 7 a.m. - 9 p.m.
M-F; Plymouth to be 10 a.m. -10 p.m., seven days/week
Menu Specialties
Signature and panini sandwiches featuring European deli meats, cheeses and artisan breads. Other items include salads, rotisserie chicken, Chef Roland Czekelius' spice blend, German sausages with imported mustards, soups, pastas and European pastries.
7 FTEs in Cambridge; up to 14 in Plymouth; 6 in Ft. Lauderdale
Equipment Investment
$75,000-$145,000 for each unit

Passport's menu is the inspiration of Austrian-born and European-trained Roland Czekelius, vice president of operations and culinary development, who has served as executive chef at Boston Park Plaza Hotel and at hotels and resorts in Bermuda, the Caribbean and Vermont. He has also been a consultant for Darden Restaurants and corporate director of foodservices at Planet Hollywood International.


In February 2002, Czekelius teamed up with Alfred Haerle to found Passport: A Taste of Europe. In mid-2003, Christopher Thomas joined the company, bringing with him more than 20 years of foodservice experience at restaurant companies including Sizzler, Planet Hollywood and Pacific Ocean. "We're testing each of three restaurant prototypes," explained Thomas. "We expect Passport to become a national brand within five years."

"There's no reason today's busy consumers should be limited to unhealthy, bland meals just because they're on the move," noted Czekelius. "We have dedicated ourselves to providing the best in gourmet meals, available in minutes and served fresh by trained chefs using state-of-the-art technology."

The technology to which Czekelius referred includes equipment and supplies that were selected for their durability and versatility. At the largest prototype facility in suburban Plymouth, which constitutes 2,200-square-feet and 800-square-feet of retail space, with 50 seats inside and 35 outside (seasonal), a $145,000 equipment package was installed. Most menu items are made from scratch. Menu items served in-house are placed on real china and accompanied by stainless serviceware.

The only equipment not visible to customers at Passport units is located in the very back of the kitchen. In this space are a high-capacity undercounter dishwasher, a walk-in cooler, a walk-in freezer and dry storage room. A three-compartment pot sink was installed here, as well. Worktables are positioned for ingredient preparation for all menu items. A food slicer is used to cut deli meats. A 300-pound capacity, cube-style ice maker with a front-opening bin is situated nearby.

Customers see all other equipment and preparation stations. In one section of the kitchen is a combi oven, which has a capacity for 16 (120 3 200) pans, and is used for baking artisan breads, roasting meats and holding chickens made on the rotisserie. A medium-duty, eight-burner gas range is used for heating sauces and sautéing vegetables. A convection oven beneath heats strudels, pastries and meats. A 34-inch cheese melter with radiant-type burners is positioned above the range.

Also in this section is a gas-fired rotisserie, with seven stainless-steel spits that can accommodate up to six chickens each. Rotisserie chickens, prepared with Passport's spice rub seasoning, are also sold whole, and in halves or quarters.

"The glass-fronted, gas-fired rotisserie is the centerpiece in our open kitchen," explained Czekelius. "We wanted the rotisserie and almost all the equipment to be visible to customers. Because nothing is hidden, though, equipment must be easy to clean and maintain."


The rotisserie, which functions continuously during most of daily operating hours, is used to cook chickens needed for salads and sandwiches, as well as those served whole for take-out and delivery. "We are currently experimenting with other rotisserie items, such as leg of lamb, pork loins, ribs and whole strip steaks," reported Czekelius.

Nearby are other key pieces of equipment: countertop, electric, single-tank pasta cookers designed with an automatic water fill system. These units measure 120 wide 3 211/40 high 3 201/20 deep and cook al dente pasta in 90 seconds. Adjacent are induction-heated woks, which a chef uses to prepare made-to-order menu items with pasta cooked in the cookers and ingredients selected by customers.

In the middle section of the kitchen, undercounter refrigerators, a meat slicer and a soup warmer are positioned for easy access by staff.

At yet another section of the open space are a bread display unit, a free food sampling area for customers and a countertop double panini grill that is positioned next to the refrigerated sandwich unit that holds ingredients. The electric-fired piece, built with a 160 wide 3 140 deep grill area and grooved grill plate, heats Italian-style sandwiches.

The kitchen in Passport units also is equipped with a 10-roller sausage grill. A French roll cooker, which heats sausage buns (eight-inch sourdough baguettes that are open only at the top) from the inside and a freestanding bun warmer are situated near the sausage and panini grills.


Founder: Alfred Haerle
President & CEO: Christopher Thomas
Vice President of Operations and Culinary Development: Roland Czekelius
Interior Design: Main Street Architects, Cappolo Ralph, principal, Weymouth, Mass.
Equipment Dealer/Distributor: Boston Showcase; U.S. Foodservice

In the front of the kitchen area are non-refrigerated, glass-fronted serving counters with protective sneeze guards. Prepared foods, including sandwiches and salads, are displayed in expansive non-refrigerated and refrigerated deli cases. Colorful ceramic serving dishes complement Passport's theme colors and contribute to the cases' display presentation. Pastries and beverages are also displayed.

Opening a new concept in today's economic environment requires a combination of caution and courage. "We did a lot of research," concluded Thomas. "Ours is not an overly complex concept, but it does respond to customers looking for bolder flavors and freshly prepared ingredients. As industry adviser Malcom Knapp has said, 'The restaurant business is simple. But simple is hard to implement.'"

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