Executive Chef Dennis Franks

Kraft on Craft

Dennis Franks takes the Kraft Challenge

Executive Chef, Big City Diner

A chef at a family-owned diner concept finds inspiration with Kraft.

Big City Diner, on the island of O'ahu in Hawaii, is famous for its Hawaiian-style comfort food. Executive chef Dennis Franks heads the kitchen of this five-unit family restaurant. Known for his classic diner fare served with island flair, we challenged Chef Franks to create an entrée salad using a Kraft product. He came back to us with a fantastic spinach salad tossed in a mango-balsamic vinaigrette and topped with flame-roasted chicken breast.

The key to Big City Diner's success, says Chef Franks, is offering home-style cooking that is consistent across the board. "We started as a one-unit restaurant and have expanded now into five units," says Chef Franks. "Kraft helps manage my cost - I need products that are versatile so we don't have to stock a huge inventory. I also need reliable products because managing consistency across the five restaurants is my biggest challenge. Kraft gives me that versatility and consistency I depend on."

Operation Stats: Big City Diner - 5 units - 3 day parts served, plus late-night dining - $2.5-3 million volume sales per unit

Creating a winning entrée salad

"My goal with this salad was to deliver vibrancy in both flavor and color," says Chef Franks. He made a simple plus-one dressing and marinade by adding puréed mango to Kraft Balsamic Vinaigrette. He marinated chicken breast in the enhanced vinaigrette, then flame roasted it and served it over a colorful salad of baby spinach, grape tomatoes, mango and red onion.

"The balsamic vinaigrette has a nice balance between sweetness and acidity that works really well here, and the mango brings in a tropical profile," says Chef Franks. To round out that profile, he finishes the salad with roasted macadamia nuts candied in-house.

"Kraft dressings are great on their own, but I like that I can offer a signature flavor with a simple, easy-to-implement enhancement," says Chef Franks. "It comes back to that consistency and versatility that I need."

Behind the chef

Big City Diner boasts a few incredible statistics. Its repeat business hovers between 80 and 90%, and its staff turnover is less than 5%. Chef Franks believes both stems from company policy. "We treat our diners and our employees like family," he says. "We want our employees to like working here, so we conduct a lot of one-on-one chats to see what their goals are, and how we can help them meet those goals."

Diner retention follows the same logic. "We give them good food and good service. It's really pretty simple." For feedback, Chef Franks relies on comment cards. "I derive so much satisfaction out of reading those - I know I'm doing something right."

Chef Franks unplugged

A family restaurant is a perfect fit for this chef - a family man with three kids and one on the way. "When I'm not working, I'm with my family. They're my hobby," he jokes.

A native of Hawaii, Chef Franks interprets comfort food as most folks do - stew, burgers, meatloaf. But add kimchi stir-fried rice (onion, Chinese barbecued pork, eggs, green onion ham, kimchi, peas, Portuguese sausage and white rice) to that list. "That's a comfort food here," he says. But there are some universal favorites at Big City Diner. The Big Oreo Cookie Sundae, featuring vanilla-bean ice cream, whole Oreo Cookies, Oreo Cookie Crumbs, whipped cream, chocolate sauce and caramel sauce, is one of the more popular desserts. Its island flair? A sprinkling of candied macadamia nuts.

Here are a few highlights from our interview with Chef Franks:


If you were sent to a desert island, what 3 ingredients would you take with you?


Garlic, sweet chili sauce and black pepper.


What is your favorite kitchen tool?


Tongs because they give you a much needed extra pair of hands.


Who would you most like to cook for?


Gordon Ramsay, so I can get his feedback. I'd like to see if he could find anything negative!


Where was the last place you dined?


Kind of funny - it was at Big City Diner with my family. It was my wife's birthday dinner, and this is where she wanted to come.


What is your favorite Kraft product?


It's a toss up between the Oscar Mayer Bacon and the Oreo Cookies.

What's next for Chef Dennis Franks?

He'll be working up a seasonal menu for the summer, as well as creating a list of standardized specials for the five units.

Spinach Salad with a Mango-Balsamic Vinaigrette
Spinach Salad with a Mango-Balsamic Vinaigrette

With a quick plus-one enhancement to the Kraft Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing, Chef Franks gives this salad a tropical sensibility.

Macadamia-Crusted Chicken Salad
Macadamia-CrustedChicken Salad

This recipe features a simple marinade of Kraft Honey Mustard Dressing that plays off the buttery richness of the macadamia-panko crust beautifully.

Chef Franks – Big City Diner