Mobile kitchen serves victims of disasters

Piccadilly, whose emergency feeding business began after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, is an area of focus for a new division formed by the restaurant chain, complete with a mobile kitchen.

“We’ve been to the International Disaster Conference in New Orleans, the National Hurricane Conference, also in New Orleans, and we just got back from the Governor’s Hurricane Conference in Florida, where we went as exhibitors,” said Piccadilly Vice President of Operations Chris Sanchez. “We’re talking to different municipalities and companies out there … We’ll travel anywhere, even outside of our service areas, to take care of those in need.”

During the 2005 hurricanes, the company had to pull out all the stops in order to serve 20,000 meals in a 24-hour period.

The new emergency kitchen, designed to Piccadilly’s specifications, can serve 100,000 meals in a day, Sanchez said.

Emergency services has no employees of its own, Sanchez said. The division draws on the knowledge and experience of Piccadilly’s 3,000 workers and managers, and the vendor relationship that comes with spending $50 million a year on groceries.

“If we’ve got a situation in Louisiana, I can call Virginia, I can call Memphis, I can call Atlanta,” Sanchez said of Piccadilly’s widespread operations.

Piccadilly uses managers and staff from outside a disaster area, Sanchez said, because the local workers are usually busy putting their own lives back together.

It took around three months to design the emergency kitchen, which includes four cookers that measure 8 feet long, 3 feet wide and 2 feet deep, Sanchez said. The cost was less than $50,000.

Piccadilly keeps the kitchen in storage, along with the tents, lights, handwashing stations and other equipment needed for emergencies. The entire thing, along with food, can be loaded into two large rental trucks. The company uses those trucks because workers can operate them without a commercial driver’s license.

Piccadilly cooks the emergency meals at one of its restaurants, then seals the entrees and sides in boil-in-bag containers, Sanchez said. The bags are dropped in the cookers and boiled, which takes about an hour.

Piccadilly had to re-engineer a number of its recipes to make them emergency friendly, Sanchez said. For example, the company uses chicken in its etouffee rather than crawfish or shrimp because the crawfish are too fragile and the shrimp get tough and rubbery.

Re-working the recipes allows Piccadilly to serve a good quality meal and do so in massive amounts, he said.