‘Two inches of goo’ doesn’t faze Filta
Lauren Wanco is a former Sodexo general manager who now owns a territory in Las Vegas for Filta Environmental Kitchen Solutions. The mobile service handles fryer clean-up plus micro-filtration and recycling of cooking oil.
“The moment I saw it I fell in love with it, because no one wants to clean their fryers,” declares Lauren Wanco, a franchisee since May for Filta Environmental Kitchen Solutions in Las Vegas, a mobile service that handles the dirtiest of restaurant jobs.
A classically trained chef who has worked every job on the line, Wanco was a general manager for Sodexo, a foodservice provider, when a colleague told her about Filta’s fryer cleaning service. The reason she’s in love with “it,” also known as the Filta fryer cleaning service? Well, consider her description of the usual way.
“Traditionally, when you’re working in the kitchen it’s usually the low man on the totem pole that cleans the fryers. You get an old stock pot, you put it on a wobbly cart, and you have to go back and flush it with water. It takes a couple of trips,” she explains.
“For somebody that’s like a line cook or a fryer, it takes about an hour, so you’re wasting that time.” And there’s this: “At the bottom of the fryer, there’s a good two inches of crumbs and goo.”
Enter Filta, a United Kingdom-originated franchise that entered the United States in 2002. It’s faster, safer and cheaper than the traditional way, Wanco claims, but perhaps most importantly, someone in a van drives up and handles the whole job, and then drives away with the used oil.
Its signature service is FiltaFry, providing mobile-based micro-filtration of cooking oil, vacuum-based deep fryer cleaning and bin-free waste oil recycling.
Wanco swears by Filta’s filtering method, which she will demonstrate to potential customers for the “wow” factor. “We train our technicians to grade oil on a scale from one to five.
A one is fresh oil. A five looks like Merlot, all dark and cruddy,” she says. Filta’s “micro filtration” system “can take particles out of the oil that are the size of a white blood cell. We try to catch it at a two or a three. You can read a newspaper through it.”
Victor Clewes is chairman of the Filta Group, which he brought to Orlando, Florida, in 2002. He had started a financial services franchise in the United Kingdom years ago, and there came across Filta and Jason Sayers. “Jason got it started with a couple of vans,” he said. “As things happened our paths crossed and I saw the opportunity to be a very, very interesting franchise because it was so unique, even though I didn’t know anything about the restaurant industry.”
The U.K. company went public last year, Clewes said. The U.S. branch has about 130 franchisees who operate more than 300 service vans on the road. Cost of investment is between $90,000 to $100,000 for one territory, with the van to be leased separately.
He said the business model has changed dramatically, starting as “a man in a van” but now seeking more “business-oriented people” who can handle multiple territories and sell three services: FiltaFry as described above, FiltaHaul to take the oil away and FiltaDrain, “which is a spray that goes down in the kitchen, because obviously drains get backed up.
We try and stop the problem of needing the drains jettied out, and it keeps the kitchen from smelling up.”
Hauling the used oil away rather than storing it in bins in the alley, too, has environmental benefits, he said. “When restaurants put the waste oil out into those bins … people will chuck bones in and all sorts of rubbish,” he said, showing the same flare for description as Wanco, his Las Vegas franchisee.
“Also they’ll attract moisture,” which is a problem when the oil is made into biodiesel, one of the most promising ways to recycle it. Filta’s oil “comes straight from the fryer, it doesn’t have chicken bones in it, and it has no moisture.”
Before coming to the U.S., he did research and said he didn’t find a competing service, although today large foodservice suppliers add it to their offerings and mom-and-pops provide the service on their own.
Restaurant Technologies, for example, advertises “safer, smarter kitchens” and handles “the entire oil process for you—from ordering and receipt processing all the way to storing, handling and recycling.” CleanFry, for another example, is an oil-handling franchise.
But at the time, Clewes said, he saw an open field. “What particularly astonished me was that no one was doing this in the United States. It’s the home of fried food, America,” and he’s happy to be the franchise cleaning it up. “It’s not the sexiest of businesses, but it’s one of those where there’s money.”