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Warm & Fuzzy: Growing Taco Chain Spices Up Tech

Trending by Angela Diffly
FuzzysSimple Start

When Fuzzy’s Taco Shop needed something simple, things got a little complicated. In planning for the opening of a new location, it called a local Internet service provider (ISP) to make sure they’d be connected and ready when the doors opened in 60 days. “We called the local ISP and told them we were opening a new restaurant and we needed Internet. Pretty simple, right?” said Briton Smetzer, director of IT operations for Fuzzy’s. “They said there was no dedicated line to our new location, and it would take six to 12 months to get us up and running. We had a split second thought that we could use dial-up, but then we’d just be going backwards,” he said. Going backwards was not an option for Fuzzy’s, as the 100-location chain had its sights set on opening 42 more stores in 2016, nearly 50 percent growth over the previous year. Optimizing technology from the onset would save a ton of headaches as they expanded, and Smetzer knew he had to find a better option.

LTE On The Rise

He came across someone at Verizon and was introduced to the idea of using LTE (Long Term Evolution, the standard for high-speed wireless communications for mobile phones and data terminals). The company made them an offer they couldn’t refuse – use it for free and see how you like it. The solution included Cradlepoint, a company specializing in cloud-based networking solutions. Since many rural locations lack access to a reliable ISP, as in the case with Fuzzy’s new restaurant, Cradlepoint’s LTE solutions can be used for primary connectivity. With Cradlepoint’s Advanced Edge Routers and Enterprise Cloud Manager solutions, Fuzzy’s can manage each store’s point-of-sale (POS) systems, back office systems, digital signage, VoIP and customer WiFi – all from one centralized location for both the company’s corporate and franchise locations. The solution helps Fuzzy’s stay connected, keep data secure and ensure uninterrupted service.

“The whole store was going through Verizon LTE. It was unbelievable,” Smetzer said. “It was surprisingly fast. We never expected to get this kind of reliability, and we never thought a cellular network could drive an entire restaurant.” (He recommends businesses trying this solution partner with a good antenna company to ensure the quality of the connection. Fuzzy’s uses Panorama Antennas with its solution.)

Fuzzys2Six months later, the local ISP finally established service, and Fuzzy’s began using Verizon LTE as a backup. The company decided to replicate this setup in its six company-owned stores, but still had the issue of fragmented networks and service providers throughout its 94 franchise-owned and operated locations in 11 states. “We feel it’s very valuable for our franchisees to bring proven technology solutions in-house,” said Smetzer. The company has its own IT, help desk and deployment teams, so when it solves problems with technology for one location, it standardizes on it and passes it on to other franchisee locations.

Connectivity Concerns

A big concern was the company’s ability to process credit cards if the system goes offline. Its Aloha POS system allows them to store credit cards for processing when the system comes back online. “If the cards are not authorized, you’re just hoping they’re good. When you come back online to process a big batch of transactions, if a card is declined or if it’s fraudulent, you lose that money. It’s a huge downside to going offline,” Smetzer told us. Fuzzy’s doesn’t have to worry about going offline anymore with the Verizon LTE as a backup. “We think it’s a no-brainer,” said Smetzer. “Every brand should be doing this. Think about it, when was the last time you looked at your phone and you didn’t have service? It never happens.”

Digital signage is also important to Fuzzy’s, and it also requires connectivity to run optimally. Fuzzy’s uses NCR’s Vitalcast cloud-based customer-facing digital signage with dynamic pricing, pushing out content brand-wide, with updates and fresh graphics. If the store is offline, the signage will be out of sync. In addition, all Fuzzy’s restaurants use HP Slate tablets in the kitchen, mounted to pivoting brackets, which display digital recipes updated in real-time (also requiring an active internet connection).

In addition to connectivity, the company started thinking about security and compliance, and how to manage it all from a centralized location. With Cradlepoint’s Enterprise Cloud Management, they can do just that. “We can tackle all the new regulations for compliance, like PCI, and add on applications with other services,” said Smetzer. “For example, with the new PCI 3.2 on the rise, now you have to log potential threats or intrusions, and I don’t think a lot of SMBs know that. Most small-to-medium retailers are not going to have in-house IT. But you can work alongside Cradlepoint, and it’s almost as easy as flipping a switch and you’re protected.”

Fuzzys4Secure WiFi

“It can be a very dangerous thing to offer WiFi in restaurants,” Smetzer told us. “If you just go to Best Buy and get a router and plug it in, guys like me can get right past that.” Since Fuzzy’s can restrict WiFi use to certain zones with constant filtering by Cradlepoint, it can protect against malware. Smetzer also appreciates that Fuzzy’s can offer a family-friendly web-surfing environment. “If you walk into one of our restaurants, it’s very easy to get on our WiFi. You don’t have to enter your email or sign in through social; it’s just on. For small businesses, that can be a scary thing. If you open the door and provide WiFi, you become liable. And you can rest assured we’re keeping it family-friendly with filtering. We’re not just protecting our point-of-sale from malware, we’re protecting our guests, as well,” Smetzer told us.

What Next?

Fuzzy’s now has 30 stores online with the Cradlepoint solution, and is planning to rollout the rest by the end of October. The company is carefully transitioning them over, making sure it eliminates any rogue access points with the help of Aerohive, which manages access points through Cradlepoint. With the company’s in-house IT support, everything is managed from one central location, which benefits the entire restaurant chain. For QSRs and other retail businesses without IT support, the Cradlepoint solution makes it easy to install, with its out-of-the-box platform for routing and security that you can manage from the cloud.

What started as a simple request to make sure one of its new restaurants would be connected to the Internet evolved to become a multi-pronged, vital technology solution for Fuzzy’s soon-to-be 140+ restaurant chain. “It all started with just needing to get online, and it blew up to be so much bigger than that,” Smetzer told us. Bigger, and infinitely better, it seems.