"hunter and gatherer" | spooky kitchens #9
March 11th, 2022. Deliveroo opened a restaurant, robots opened a restaurant, Wow Bao opened a restaurant.
Happy Friday y’all,
We’re back from our brief and unexpected 1-week hiatus! Thanks for hangin’ with.
First thing’s first: you can also read this on the web, with slightly better aesthetics than your inbox. Just FYI.
Onto a lighter week in ghost kitchen news:
So what happened this week(ish)? (TL;DR)
Now fire pizza!
are ghost kitchens eyeballing their own restaurants?
Deliveroo’s pizza restaurant opens in London (Rhian Daly, Timeout). “Pizza Paradiso” is owned and operated by Deliveroo in order to understand the ins and outs of restaurants; in theory, so they can better serve their partners/customers. It is currently only slated for one location, and interestingly, is not being given “special treatment” within the Deliveroo marketplace. That means no improved placement or extra incentives for customers to order on the app, which is the way you’d do it if you really wanted to learn something. A marketplace wanting only to learn and not develop in-house brands for its own gain? That sounds…
Too good to be true (Adam Coghlan, Eater). This article from Eater London casts doubt that the apparently one-shot pizzeria may not be quite so singular. Eater cites language from Deliveroo’s 2018 strategy proposals that indicate the company is, in fact, quite interested in rendering its own food on a larger scale (as well as automating its workforce) — unsurprising revelations for an Amazon-backed, bazillion-dollar delivery behemoth. So it’s probably true that Deliveroo wants to understand restaurants better; but why they want to understand restaurants better may be for reasons not so appetizing to their independent partners.
What’s wrong with a ghost kitchen developing its own restaurant brands? Ghost kitchens that provide space and services to other restaurants face a conflict of interest in creating their own concepts; how do their other tenants know that the ghost kitchen provider isn’t gleaning recipes, logistics, or other information, practices, or strategies from them through the day-to-day observation and coordination it takes to operate inside a ghost kitchen facility? Especially if it turns out that the ghost kitchen company’s concept(s) serves a competitive product — not an unlikely possibility in facilities that contain a dozen or more kitchens. There’s recent precedent for this: infamously, Amazon used information it got from the many, many companies that retail on its marketplace to produce and offer its own Basics line of products at a lower price point; often among the lowest pricing in any category. For Deliveroo, as both a third party marketplace and kitchen provider to many restaurants, this conflict is especially pressing.
Deliveroo’s not the only ghost kitchen working on its own brands. CloudKitchens, one of the largest ghost kitchen companies in the world, has also operated its own brands alongside its regular restaurant tenants for years.
🐔 Wow Bao launches virtual plant-based chicken brand with former Garden Fresh Gourmet partners (Joanna Fantozzi, NRN). Crazy Crispy Chick’n is Wow Bao’s first brand outside of the flagship Wow Bao, developed in partnership with Golden West Food Group, Valor Siren Ventures, and Skinny Butcher. It’s launching initially through REEF to go national almost immediately. Crazy Crispy Chick’n’s menu is designed to leave 40% profit to the operator, according to Wow Bao CEO Geoff Alexander — nice to see a solid number put out there, tbh.
🤖 Automatic robotic kitchen in Illinois requires no human employees (Fast Casual). Nala Robotics has launched a fully automated ghost kitchen outside of Chicago. “With the help of robots powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning, Nala can master any dish in a matter of minutes,” said Ajay Sunkara, founder. Which sounds like…well, a big claim. Very cool if it can. I’ll reserve judgment. Currently, Nala is focusing on chicken with their first concept, One Mean Chicken (thankfully not another Cluck/Clucker/Clucka brand). I’ll let Ajay see us out with another quote: “Man’s food journey started as hunter and gatherer. Nala Robotics brings us the next evolution in our journey, where robots cook and deliver food.” Wow.
💻 Taster founder on why he’s banking on virtual brands (headline edit b/c the original is literally 23 entire words) (Grace Dean, Business Insider). Taster — a virtual restaurant company — has been in the game for a minute (since 2017). It predates the adoption of virtual brands in the US by a year or two, and spawned out of the innovation of Deliveroo, which had opened its Editions kitchens by that point. The company has evolved over time, and its latest evolution is into a virtual brand company the likes of which we see all over the US market today (the Nextbites, Franklin Junctions, and Combo Kitchens). Taster’s brands have been developed and (theoretically) honed over the years to be optimal for both delivery and production out of an existing restaurant kitchen (i.e. a host kitchen). It seems to be growing from a stable foundation as it strives to become the “world’s largest digital restaurant company” (a title it competes for against India’s “largest internet restaurant company” Rebel Foods).
🥦 Fast-casual salad chain to open 20 ghost kitchens in Florida (Dan Berthiaume, Chain Store Age). Saladworks is partnering with ghost franchise-facilitator Combo Kitchens to open 20 ghost or “host” locations inside of WingHouse Bar locations in Florida. Saladworks has focused most of its growth on rapid, nontraditional expansion through grocery stores and ghost kitchens over the last few years and seems to be holding that focus into the future.
🦹 Digestif: The metaverse, explained (Oli Welsh, Polygon). If you have trouble visualizing the metaverse, in which restaurants are (sort of) starting to open — Fortnite is actually a good place to start. If you have trouble visualizing Fortnite — find your nearest friendly youth and have them show you. Or just click here and you’ll get the gist.
That’s been 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 (and frequently updated) to help make sense of this weird and wild west.