2019 MURTEC BREAKTHROUGH WINNERS: Profiles in Customization


The 2019 MURTEC Breakthrough Awards, sponsored by NovaDine, were presented to three restaurant brands for their customized solutions that increased guest throughput, eased franchise management problems and streamlined the POS enabling seamless third-party delivery integration.

Customer Engagement Innovator: Little Caesars

Detroit-based Little Caesars developed a comprehensive digital ordering solution for its customers, the Pizza Portal. This tech-forward solution combines digital ordering with in-store pickup — it’s a modern solution that appeals to today’s convenience-oriented consumer that prefers off-premise dining.  

Customers can order from the menu or customize their pizza within the mobile app. When the order is ready, the customer receives a push notification directly on their phone, a PIN or QR code to scan to retrieve their order. Little Caesars worked with Apex Supply Chain Technologies to develop the proprietary Pizza Portal, which not only securely keeps the pizza warm until the customer arrives, but also monitors how long the order has been sitting to guarantee a fresh quality product.

The solution was tested extensively before its 2018 U.S. rollout. International media buzz helped generate awareness of the brand and its new solution, and helps position the brand as a cool tech company. Finding good tech talent is hard. “If you’re not perceived as a cool company, you won’t get top talent,” said Lance Shinabarger, VP Global Infrastructure & Architecture.  

Enterprise Innovator: Firehouse of America LLC

Jacksonville, Fla.-based Firehouse of America LLC was recognized for its custom developed franchise business management platform called Fire Cloud, a comprehensive one-stop-shop for Firehouse Subs franchisees to manage their businesses.

Fire Cloud was developed in partnership with a local web design and development firm and includes more than 20 applications, both custom developed as well as third-party single-sign on (SSO) integrations through Google’s G Suite. With a familiar dashboard layout, the robust software offers business intelligence tools that utilizes sales and transaction data. It can handle everything from managing product quality issues and to automatically importing daily sales into QuickBooks Online through a custom developed application, utilizing QuickBooks application programming interfaces (APIs). The development of a quality reporting application has given franchisees an easy way to submit product quality issues and the Firehouse QA team the means of monitoring, tracking and communicating with franchisees through a built-in workflow. In 12 months since the application’s deployment, franchises have saved more than 6,700 hours in data entry.

Firecloud’s most surprising benefit? Insurance certificate management went from less than 50% to 100% compliance.

“It’s important for us as a franchisor to not limit our performance by the confines of technology and software that are available but instead focus on building our own infrastructure,” said Shelly Walsh, Senior Manager of Franchise Programs, Firehouse of America, LLC. “When our operators have the tools they need to be successful and are easily accessible, they can spend more time focusing on the guest experience, and that’s the real win.”

Enterprise Innovator: Panera Bread

Faced with “a legacy platform that was costing too much to maintain,” St. Louis-based Panera Bread custom built a POS and KDS to increase business agility, explained Mike Prusaczyk, VP Enterprise Architecture & IT Strategy. It is part of its overall omni-channel strategy of providing a consistent and personalized customer experience across all channels.Control and managing its own POS led to a three-month implementation of third-party delivery platforms including order syncing and processing. 

“We originally thought we didn’t have to partner (with third-party delivery companies), but then with the market share, we just had to be there,” Prusaczyk explained. With the new solution, it is “significantly easier to maintain menus,” he added.


This year’s competition attracted a record-number of entries, judged by HT’s advisory board and editorial staff, yielding three honorable mentions.

Jersey Mike’s Learning Management System

Jersey Mike’s Franchise Systems Inc. successfully developed and integrated E-Learning Mike’s Way, the Learning Management System (LMS) a solution that is accessible to all team members on any web-enabled device. The library is a goldmine of continuing education, designed with micro-learning and gamification to maximize engagement, and features more than 200 video-based lessons, including a 20-module course that covers all subjects from Day 1 to manager. Plus, there is a separate curriculum for first-time franchisees.

Having one training program allows Jersey Mike’s to validate and track performance of all team members. As of July, the LMS is being used in 90% of locations. Over 6,000 employees have completed food safety training. The biggest benefits are that the system clarifies standards and expectations, makes training easier, and helps to prepare team members for more responsibility. Eighty-five percent of respondents said the investment was worth it, and Jersey Mike’s continues to strive for improvement.

Salsarita’s Automated AP

Salsarita’s Fresh Mexican Grill had a backlog of 6,000 documents per month waiting to be manually entered or scanned into the system. Salsarita’s 19 corporate stores were receiving paper invoices, and those invoices had to be delivered to the corporate office. Even when a vendor sent an invoice electronically, the AP clerk still had to print out the document, process it, then rescan it back into the system. This highly inefficient process resulted in lost invoices, wasted labor and hundreds of dollars a week spent on document delivery.

Salsarita’s realized it needed more than a document management solution; it needed an end-to-end invoice payment and processing solution in order to streamline the AP workflow and gain efficiencies.

The fast casual chain integrated Yooz, a cloud-based solution that leverages smart technologies including AI, OCR, smart data extraction, and robotics process automation (RPA), into its ERP system. Now restaurant managers scan invoices into the system at the time of receipt; then the corporate office accesses them from the cloud.

The company is now processing 800 documents a month, an increase of 38%. The company is saving $20,000 a year in delivery fees. Month-end has become more accurate, and the 6,000-document backlog was eliminated. Thanks to the newfound efficiencies, team members are getting more hours in their day. For example, one-third of the bookkeeper’s time was freed up to do more strategic, value-added tasks. 

Cousins Subs: Back-Office Insights

Knowledge is power, and Cousins Subs realized it needed a new back-office solution to report on its 93 locations. The company had a major goal: achieving a food cost variance of 2%, down from the 3-4%. Cousins Subs locations pride themselves on using local and regional suppliers, which complicates vendor and inventory management. Many locations were ordering the wrong items. This caused incorrect COGS calculations and missed savings from vendor rebates.

Cousins Subs implemented Data Central by Restaurant Magic Software. Cousins Subs can now run scheduled reporting (for employee clock-outs, daily counts and a flash email daily recap); to-do checklists for the store-level; mobile friendly employee scheduling; top 10 and bottom 10 reports. Plus it is compatible to export to Excel.

The scheduled reports and alerts have proven to save managers’ time and increase team productivity. At the store level, Cousins Subs invested in tablets, which have helped managers complete inventory in less than an hour. It used to take two.

Thanks to the increased efficiencies and accuracies, Cousins Subs has saved more than $250,000 in COGS about a year. Cousins Subs used its profit to give bonuses to employees and reinvest in store locations. Two stores were rebuilt with drive-thrus (which have seen an increase in sales of 40%) and a new delivery-only location opened.

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