Panera Bread, Firehouse Subs and Little Caesars Recognized for Tech Solutions

2019 Breakthrough Award winners Shelly Walsh, Firehouse Subs; Mike Prusaczyk, Panera Bread, and Lance Shinabarger, Little Caesar's; pictured with HT's Editor-in-Chief Dorothy Creamer, right. The awards are sponsored by NovaDine.

Three restaurants were recognized with 2019 MURTEC Breakthrough Awards for tech solutions spearheaded by their in-house development teams. Firehouse Subs (Enterprise Innovator) and Panera Bread (Enterprise Innovator) and Little Caesars (Customer Engagement Innovator) were presented with awards on Oct. 29 at the MURTEC Executive Summit at the Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North in Arizona. The awards are sponsored by NovaDine.

The three winners gave brief presentations sharing key takeaways from their successful projects.




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 to appeals to today’s convenience-oriented consumer that prefers off-premise dining.  VP, IT Lance Shinabarger credited his in-house team and vendors for the project’s success.

Finding good tech talent is hard. "If you're not perceived as a cool company, you won't get top talent. You just won't," said Shinabarger. To that end, he suggested partnering with universities to farm innovative ideas and sponsoring hackathons to attract talent.

Firehouse of America LLC created a custom franchise business management software called Fire Cloud, a comprehensive solution where Firehouse Subs franchisees can manage their businesses from a single easy-to-use dashboard. In one year, the solution saved the company 6,700 hours in data entry. Firecloud’s most surprising benefit? Insurance certificate management went from less than 50% to 100% compliance, explained Firehouse’s Senior Manager of Franchise Programs Shelly Walsh.

Faced with “a legacy platform that was costing too much to maintain,” 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 3-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," he explained.  With the new solution, it is “significantly easier to maintain menus,” he added.

This year’s competition, which attracted a record-number of entries, had three honorable mentions: Jersey Mike's for its integrated learning management system; Salsaritas for its document management solution and streamlined workforce processing workflow; and Cousins Subs for its implementation of a back-office solution that has saved the company $250,000.

HT’s advisory board and editorial staff judged the entries.



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.

Prior to the LMS, Jersey Mike’s struggled with delivering training content that would be impactful and trackable.

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 Automates AP

Salsarita’s Fresh Mexican Grill’s 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; these can be accessed by the corporate office accesses them from the cloud.

The results have been impressive. 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. One-third of the bookkeeper’s time was freed up to do more strategic, value-added tasks.

Cousins Subs: Money-Saving 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 after implementing Data Central.

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 new delivery-only location opened.

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