Jan Malinka is an accomplished gastronome. The quaint bar-restaurant Stará Tkalcovna (old weaving mill) in the venerable three-star EFI Palace hotel in Brno, Czech Republic, is not his first establishment. With its brick walls and vaulted ceilings, this spacious, rustic cellar space beckons you to enjoy it. Or rather, beckoned – then came Corona.
A super shop in collaboration
The hotel closed. The restaurant closed. What’s more, the EFI Palace is only one of four hotels in a hotel group. “We had to keep our employees’ jobs,” says gastro pro Malinka, who is also head chef for the entire EFI hotel group. They quickly found the solution. Malinka set up a web store together with Tomáš Urbánek, the group’s F&B manager. “The financial group that owns the EFI hotels came up with the idea. We worked with our IT technicians and got the store up and running within hours,” Malinka says with pride. Needless to say, not everything went smoothly right from the start. “We had to take screenshots of the orders with our cell phones,” recalls the restaurateur about the start-up phase. “But our IT techs really stepped up to the plate, and after a few sleepless nights, the store was up and running.” In the beginning, there were also problems with connectivity to the merchandise management system. “The shop software was programmed for unlimited inventory, and orders kept coming in that we simply didn’t have the ingredients for,” Malinka says. However, the Corona-related shutdowns were a blessing in disguise because it meant qualified staff was available to carry out the many administration tasks. “They handed out flyers, managed the phone service when questions came up and took orders from older customers who don’t use the Internet.” Together, we were stronger – soon everything was running smoothly. “The shop is very easy to use and works great. You can order from anywhere and conveniently pay,” says Malinka with delight. “The range was extremely well received right from the start.” In stock: genuine Czech cuisine. Authentic, traditional dishes – and everything made with premium homemade quality. No preservatives, no flavor enhancers. However, this is not the only secret of its success.
Underutilized gastro paradise
“Delivering hot food is not cost-effective,” explains Jan Malinka. “You have to make an extra trip for every order.” He switched to refrigerated food, packed in a vacuum bag or preserved in a jar. “This allows us to deliver twenty to thirty orders in one run,” says the experienced restaurateur. The story got even better. This was because the group’s newest hotel had just been built in the immediate vicinity: the four-star EFI Spa. Under Jan Malinka’s stewardship, it was scheduled to open in the spring of 2020, with a spacious restaurant spread over two floors, an open kitchen and brewery.
But this didn’t happen. However, the gastro pro knew what to do. “The shop was doing well and we needed more production capacity. So without further ado, we moved our production to the EFI Spa Hotel. The kitchen there is much larger and significantly more well equipped: It has four iCombi combi steamers and one iVario Pro,” Malinka raves. He also likes the digital networking via the ConnectedCooking app, because he can now see which cooking programs are currently running while on the go. “I can also create new recipes and download HACCP data. I use the app every day,” says the gastronome. On top of that, a second iVarioPro was recently purchased. After all, the shop is continuing to grow. What started out as ten items is now an offering of several dozen main dishes, plus side dishes and more.
Beef heart and Bohemian dumplings
“We wanted to cook according to the forgotten recipes of our grandmothers and grandfathers,” Malinka says. A quick peek at the shop’s website yields an astonishing variety of dishes, with or without meat, so surprising and varied that you’ll definitely want to become a regular customer. As a special highlight, they use the house-brewed dark beer leftovers to make Irish stout jam and syrup. However, the main focus is traditional Bohemian dishes. Among the most popular products are spicy specialties made from offal, pork lung in cream sauce, beef tripe soup or beef heart on bacon. And of course, you can’ t miss out on their boiled beef, borscht and goulash soup. You can also opt for wild boar goulash and haunch of venison with rosehip sauce, as well as sausage specialties and even matured fine steaks from Czech spotted cattle. If you prefer vegetarian options, you can find Czech classics like roasted cauliflower and fried cheese. Pastries and dumplings are also a typical treat. “Traditional dishes, the kind you eat in the pubs here,” as Jan Malinka sums it up. Indeed, in addition to private customers, three pubs now order from his store. EFI Palace also gets its food from there. “This saves costs because now only they only need one chef there to heat the food,” says the pro. Incidentally, his shop also supplies the group’s two hotels, that do not have their own restaurant, but offer guests the option to heat up dishes themselves. “We deliver 200 to 300 two-portion meals per day,” explains the restaurateur, who has now also purchased two dry aging cabinets. “Soon we will buy two more,” he announces. “We also have a smoker.”
Shop as a job creator
Last but not least, the shop has created a lot of jobs. “We started with three cooks and five waiters who worked as delivery drivers,” Malinka says. “Today we have 16 employees, including a butcher and a baker.” Because hotels reopened on May 24 and restaurants are gradually reopening, waiters are once again needed in the restaurant. “We’ve hired new drivers,” said Malinka, who also sells the food through a food truck near the hotel. No surprise that one thing is clear to him: “The shop will stick around after the pandemic!”
Success with professional technology
When asked for tips, Malinka says, “You shouldn’t start this without a financial cushion. If you can only produce 20, 30 servings a day, it’s not cost-effective.” His motto is: “You need a business brain, a love for gastronomy, high-quality ingredients and a great team. I’ve been doing this work for 14, 15 years and know a few techniques. I just have a lot of fun doing it!” He’s not afraid of the competition. “What we’re doing isn’t new. But we are very well-equipped. I don’t think anyone has as many ovens as we do! We are the biggest shop in the city.”