Source: Orlando Sentinel
Filta Environmental Kitchen Solutions has a slick job — cleaning the deep fryers that cook every greasy basket of French fries and chicken fingers served at the Amway Center, Camping World Stadium and dozens of other stadiums across the country.
The cooking oil filtering and servicing company based in Orlando is finding a growing market for restaurants and venues that don’t want to deal with the hassle of changing and disposing of cooking grease. So far this year it’s added 10 new franchises, said chief operating officer Tom Dunn, bringing it up to 140 markets nationwide.
Filta has grown into a national company with a micro-filtration machine that pumps oil out of fryers, cleans it and then returns it. Filtering it more than doubles the lifetime of the cooking oil, Dunn said, and can help cut down on the amount of oil that needs to be tossed.
Brett Alvarez of Filta Environmental Solutions uses an oil-filtering machine to service fryers at Amway Center, on Wednesday, October 3, 2018.The company filters the oil and cleans fryers, extending the life of the oil. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda / Orlando Sentinel)
The business has rebounded since the economic downturn and is expanding again with the growing appetite from consumers for eating out. Nationwide, restaurant sales hit $799 billion in 2017, up 36 percent from 2010, according to the National Restaurant Association. And many of those use deep fryers to deliver that food. Cooking oil is an $85 billion business globally and growing at a rate of about 6.8 percent a year, according to Zion Market Research. That creates a lot of grease that can’t just be flushed down drains or into septic tanks, Dunn said. Collecting oil isn’t a new business. Companies such as Brownie’s Septic and Plumbing have industrial grease and oil collection services. “Most restaurants with fryers have a grease trap and it’s pumped to have a bin out back where grease is stored until a company can come pick it up,” Dunn said. “Then they wait for a truck to come pick it up. We try to do it all at once so you don’t have to store old oil.”
Left to Right, Unfiltered and filtered used frying oil — the filtered oil is clearer, while the unfiltered is cloudy with suspended particles. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda / Orlando Sentinel)
Dunn said Filta’s advantage is that the cooking oil never has to leave the kitchen and that its team will do all the cleaning, draining, disposal and supply the oil. Filta also will haul off oil that’s too old to clean.
“It really is a convenience thing,” he said. “We think that when you factor in everything, it makes sense financially.”
Cleaning the fryers is never a job that cooks and dishwashers volunteer for, said Ian Carrey, manager at Camp House Grill in Sanford, one of Filta’s customers. “It’s hot, and it spills everywhere,” Carrey said. “I would just prefer not to deal with it.”
This month the company, formerly known as FiltaFry, is opening its first franchise in Alaska in Anchorage, expanding to its 44th state. The company came to Orlando in 2002, moving from the United Kingdom to take advantage of the huge American restaurant industry. Its global headquarters is still in the U.K. and it went public last year on the London Stock Exchange.
Its U.S. headquarters are in south Orlando, where it has 20 corporate employees. It’s not glamorous work for those involved. Orlando-area franchisee Tom Rovison said he works with about 100 restaurants from establishments such as the Planet Hollywood Observatory and Morimoto Asia at Disney Springs to mom and pop shops such as The Camp House Grill in Sanford.
“It’s all about specialization,” Rovison said. “It’s a lot of work to clean out a deep fryer for an employee, and it can be dangerous because you are working with hot oil.”
At the Amway Center, Filta technician Brett Alvarez hauled a 250-pound filtering machine up elevators to the third floor to clean the deep fryers from one of the arena’s dozens of restaurants. After pulling on Kevlar arm protectors and grease-proof gloves, he dipped one hose into the 350-degree cooking oil and pumped it into the machine.
It takes about seven minutes to service each fryer, but when it’s done it turns from a cloudy caramel color liquid into something as clear as apple juice, Rovison said. “They used to throw out their oil between every event,” Rovison said. “Now with the filtering we can make it last four to five events.”