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Online Food Hall Concept With Multiple Virtual Brands Receives Industry Hero Award

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Thirsty Lion's kitchens were able to stay open thanks to Concept Entertainment Group's online foodhall concept, Central Kitchen.
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The saying, 'when the going gets tough, the tough get going," definitely applies to the team behind Concept Entertainment Group.  

When Concept Entertainment Group halted dine-in service at its Thirsty Lion locations due to the pandemic, it pivoted to create an online food hall concept called Central Kitchen Online Foodhall to house different dining concepts integrated within Thirsty Lion’s kitchens — allowing customers to order a variety of food via third-party delivery and pickup.

For its impressive accomplishments, Hospitality Technology presented Concept Entertainment Group with the Industry Hero Award. 

Here's why: Concept Entertainment Group, which employs 1200 people, was forced to close all of its restaurants at the onset of the pandemic. With dining rooms closed, it was not feasible to operate its scratch kitchens on take-out business alone.

Concept Entertainment Group Founders John Plew and VP of Food and Beverage and Executive Chef Keith Castro had a winning idea:  create an online food hall concept where customers could pick and choose from a variety of cuisines in one order, for delivery or at some locations, curbside pickup.

One Stop, Several Options

Central Kitchen includes the virtual brands Southern Jewel, Soy Joy, Killer Wings, Pizza & Spice, BYOBurgers and Tortilla Sunrise — and are integrated into Thirsty Lion’s idle kitchens and leverage the marketing power of third-party delivery marketplaces.  

“We felt the need was crucial during the pandemic to create a model for online to-go dining where you can mix and match cuisines and choose from different concepts in one order. It is never easy to please an entire household from one restaurant, so this ups the satisfaction quotient considerably, eliminates additional ordering fees, provides contactless pay and delivery options and saves time,” said Concept Entertainment Group Founder and CEO John Plew.    

Concept Entertainment Group's off-premises pivot came as restaurants nationwide faced the realities of doing business during the COVID-19 pandemic, they increasingly leaned in to off-prem.

“Central Kitchen is here to stay as an additional revenue,” says Plew.  A couple of new brands will roll out in the near future.

Concept Entertainment Group embraced technology and new ways to improve operations, speed of service and guest satisfaction.  Now that Thirsty Lions are reopened, all of their menus are contactless and available via QR code on tables and signage via ChowlyPay at the table and guests being able to order from their mobile phones in designated areas are here to stay, Plew explains.  Also, smaller menus, shorter hours of operations, and lots of hand sanitizer and table disinfectant are no longer trends but the new way of doing business. 

In the future, Plew sees smaller locations and with a better outdoor experience, more digital marketing, and curbside pickup and designated pickup areas for to-go orders and for third-party delivery drivers. Also on the list, a redesign of areas in the kitchen for pick and delivery.   

Hear what CEG Co-Founder John Plew has to say aboout CEG's pandemic off-prem pivot at MURTEC in this 1-minute video.

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Concept Entertainment Group's accomplishments exemplify the spirit of Hospitality Technology’s Industry Heroes awards.

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HT’s Industry Heroes Awards acknowledge members of our restaurant technology community who truly went above and beyond in the face of closed dining rooms and lockdowns, pivoting to off-prem and digital solutions to serve customers, support employees, and feed communities in need,” said Abigail Lorden, publisher of HT.

The Industry Heroes Awards recognize both restaurants and technology suppliers for exemplary contributions to the restaurant industry in 2020. Concept Entertainment Group was one of six Industry Hero award winners at the 26th annual MURTEC (Multi-Unit Restaurant Technology Conference), which was held virtually, “online everywhere” on April 13 and 14. The winners of the 2021 Industry Heroes Awards are: CMX, Concept Entertainment Group, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, Fazoli’s, Jersey Mike’s Franchise Systems, Inc., OneDine, Punchh and Revel Systems.

Top Women in Restaurant Technology and Industry Heroes winners were chosen by Hospitality Technology magazine and members of its Research Advisory Board. Winners will be profiled in the Summer 2021 issue of Hospitality Technology magazine and in digital profiles on in the coming weeks. 

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