"chain brands up the wazoo" | spooky kitchens #41
November 20th, 2022. Deliveroo & Zomato bid quick farewells to entire markets, Pepsi declared itself an expert in ghost kitchens, and the confusing nature of airport ghost kitchens.
Happy weekend y’all,
First thing’s first: thank you. That’s all. 🦃
As a quick reminder, all green text is linked.* (*not always to anything important)
So what happened this week? (TL;DR)
🤷 Picking apart JustKitchens' new(?) offerings (“JustKitchen Expands B2B and D2C Offerings Through New Arrangements” Release, Yahoo Finance). This is an excellent example of how not to write a press release, filled to the brim with acronyms and parentheticals and assuming the reader has kept up with every JustKitchen update from the last two years. According to the release, “The Direct Spoke concept serves B2B clients and makes food items available to retail customers on a D2C basis, while also continuing to work with delivery service providers ("DSPs") in the normal course of business,” which means…something, I’m sure. Is D2C the same as B2C, or a unique channel? Is “Direct Spoke” just what they’re calling their ghost kitchens now, or is it a new type of ghost kitchen they’ve developed? This isn’t news beyond my own utter bewilderment – but if you’re crafting your own press release anytime soon, keep this around to ensure yours doesn’t read the same.
👋 Zomato leaves the UAE (“Zomato to shut down UAE food delivery service” Verdict Food Service). Zomato, one of India’s largest food delivery services, is officially ending operations in the United Arab Emirates effective November 24th, handing over its customers to Talabat, the UAE’s biggest delivery app that acquired Zomato’s UAE branch in 2019 (this is more like checking a box than it is an unexpected departure). While geographically the UAE is obviously much smaller than Zomato’s home market, it is one of the hottest restaurant tech markets in the world; which may have contributed to this departure. Between tentpole deliverers Careem, Deliveroo, and Talabat, and newcomers seemingly every month, the UAE remains rife with competition.
👋👋 Deliveroo exits Australia (“Deliveroo's departure from Australia brings takeaway delivery closer to a monopoly” Rhiana Whitson & Emilia Terzon, ABC). Quitting a market that is an entire continent is no mean decision – but when, according to one restaurant owner quoted in the article, Deliveroo was pulling $300/week versus Uber Eats’ $8000/week, it’s probably time to pack your kitchens and go. In addition to Deliveroo’s other exits from The Netherlands and Spain and the aforementioned Zomato departure from the UAE, remember also that SE Asian super-app Grab also recently closed its ghost kitchens in Indonesia. It’s officially bunker season, as firms follow larger tech trends and trim and consolidate ahead of the expected headwinds of (some sort of) recession in the coming months. Maybe. *another shrug*
🥤 Want to open a ghost kitchen? Pepsi's your guy (I guess) (“PepsiCo wants to help restaurants start ghost kitchens” Joe Guzkowski, Restaurant Business). Pepsi’s Digital Food Lab wants very much to get more Pepsi into more of tomorrow’s restaurants by providing consultant services to aspiring ghost kitchens, host kitchens, and virtual brand creators and operators. It’s not a bad marketing tactic; but I wouldn’t exactly trust Pepsi, nor their sum total of one ghost kitchen experience in partnership with Famous Dave’s, to be useful, effective, or expert consultants for any new concept. But if I was a Pepsi restaurant already, and looking to start or add a virtual restaurant to my existing operation, then I’d absolutely take advantage of free marketing resources and/or any other giveaways or tech discounts that come through Pepsi Digital Food Lab. Like US Foods and other Big Food players that have dabbled in ghost-consultancy, Pepsi’s a grandparent who has no real idea what the heck you, its restaurant grandchild, are doing nowadays with these newfangled ghost kitchen contraptions and virtual restaurant nonsense — but they’re plenty happy to throw a little money and a few hopefully helpful resources your way to keep you in the family.
🤔 Airport ghost kitchens are fascinating (“New virtual restaurant at SEA extends airport ghost kitchen trend” Harriet Baskas, Runway Girl). Heck, the entire airport restaurant economy is fascinating. While I’m a less frequent traveler than I was, I still get a thrill out of walking into a new airport and seeing what its whole deal is. Especially regarding food. Airports like ATX (Austin) and MSY (New Orleans) feature exciting arrays of local food and retail stores from local brands, while sprawling hubs like LAX and O’Hare remain dismally, and somewhat reassuringly, stuck in the past, with dependable chain brands up the wazoo. I can appreciate both types of airport — and ultimately what I like most is how much airports feel like caricatures of their cities.
Ghost kitchens in airports, though, are a bit perplexing. That’s partly because I’ve always seen ghost kitchens as a reaction to the surplus ubiquity of brick-and-mortar restaurants, as well as a lack of cuisine variety in a given region or area. Where there is demand for more convenience and variety, ghost and host kitchens can now service that demand in quicker, more flexible, and more cost-effective ways than the traditional restaurant model. But airports, as a “region,” are already chock full o’ to-go restaurants, with a handful of sit-down joints that are mainly just places to sit (and drink) that aren’t the gate, often shadows of much better namesakes elsewhere in their hometown. And like a food court, variety is built into the restaurant curation at many airports. So with an existing makeup like that, what further convenience, or variety, can ghost kitchens really offer airports and their travelers?
I don’t really have an answer for that. I’ve seen the ads, at LAX and elsewhere, for in-airport delivery services that would allow me to order order food from Terminal 1 to be delivered to me in Terminal 5, but what restaurant at an airport is good enough for me to go through the rigmarole of having it delivered in an airport (okay, a Sausage McMuffin combo before an early-AM flight would be sorely tempting, but I can think of truly no other examples)? Ordering your food on an app and waiting for it to be delivered to you at a gate when, typically, airport restaurant lines and kitchens move quickly already (because, again, they’re designed to) feels like an inconvenient solution to a problem that has plenty of convenient solutions. It’s supply as a response to an already-fulfilled demand.
Airport ghost kitchens still fascinate me – and I do think ghost food halls like REEF’s in Raleigh-Durham conceptually make a bit more sense by adding potentially a lot of variety within a single store unit (though I think REEF’s specific attempt there is a horrendous nightmare) – but they fascinate me in an optimistically confused way, if that makes any sense at all. I don’t get airport delivery, I don’t need airport delivery, but hey, I hope someone eventually figures out airport delivery…if there’s anything there to figure out.
❓ ShiftPixy Labs works with ghost kitchens and...laser therapy? (“ShiftPixy Shares Rise 21% After Hours Following 56% Gain in Regular Session” Josh Beckerman, MarketWatch). ShiftPixy shares are on the up and up after the announcement of their intention to spin off ShiftPixy Labs, the company’s quasi-experimental arm. ShiftPixy Labs is a ghost kitchen and virtual brand “incubator” that crafts virtual restaurants utilizing the next-gen, future-forward tools only Web3 can provide. However, with the various public-facing fronts of Web3 taking such a tragic and thorough beating recently between multiple crypto and NFT market collapses, that aspect of Labs isn’t quite looking like the futureproof concept it was just earlier this year. Hence, a good reason to shoo it off into its own corner, or otherwise remove this potentially gangrenous limb.
Also – and this is just weird, not necessarily a demerit – as a footnote in the article, it’s mentioned that ShiftPixy Labs works with Quelliv, a “laser center operator.” On further, very basic investigation, Quelliv is a little more than that; a laser wellness company that, essentially, shoots lasers at you to achieve “anti-aging,” “body contouring,” “pain management,” and “scalp rejuvenation” effects. I have my own thoughts on such…procedures…and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on Quelliv, but with regard to ShiftPixy, it just seems like the epitome of odd to lump this in with its Web3 ghost kitchens division. *a slow, confused, conclusive shrug*
That’s spooky kitchens.
P.S. If you’re just jumping into ghost kitchens and want to learn more, check out my ghostly glossary and spooky kitchens ghost kitchen cheat sheet. They’re there to help make sense of this weird and wild west.
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