"The Trade-Showiest Trade Show of Them All" | spooky kitchens #21
June 3rd, 2022. A loaded little-news week.
Happy Friday y’all,
First thing’s first: you can also read this on the web, with slightly better aesthetics than your inbox. Just FYI.
And just a quick reminder: all green text is linked.* (*not always to anything important)
So what happened this week? (TL;DR)
Nothing huge, but lots of little things. Take a gander below.
Now fire baby news!
👀 Get a look inside the UK’s “Growth Kitchens” (“This ghost kitchen serves up dishes for 10 restaurants – take a look inside” Grace Dean, Insider). Growth Kitchens was last in the news (or at least, in this newsletter) for being named “the one that cracked the delivery kitchen model” by new investor Gorilla (despite not really doing anything new). Their model is a near carbon-copy of Cloud Kitchens: each brand gets its own four-walled kitchen space, there is no consumer pick-up, and they’re located in industrial areas within delivery range of popular neighborhoods.
I have some other thoughts that I’m just going to bullet (lots of photos to cover!):
There may be 10 kitchens and 10 operators at this location, but there are definitely more than “10 brands.” In this photo of “Four Kitchens,” you can see one operator running 5 virtual brands out of their single kitchen unit.
I like the pick-up windows per each kitchen – makes the process simple for the riders.
Finding the kitchen in this cluster of identical buildings would be a nightmare for riders. Especially w/ the limited signage GK is given to work with. This is the tough part of operating in properties like this; you’re both out-of-the-way and hard-to-find. Eventually the regular riders will figure it out, but it’s a steep early learning curve just to get them to the right door.
Speaking of riders; yes, technically they have space to wait…but those guys on the stools look awful cozy.
Growth Kitchens plans to open 40+ locations over the next two years, “some outside London,” with…3 million pounds in seed funding? Real estate must be a lot cheaper in the UK than I realized.
“Criteria brands have to meet” to get a kitchen is often a talking point more than a concrete rule. These criteria are often instantly relaxed the second a brand chafes against, say, having to lean into sustainability – but hey, maybe it’s different in the UK and Growth Kitchens can afford higher standards for tenants.
🧑🎤 Metaverse stunts connect to real-food benefits (“Pizza Hut, Jimmy John’s tie first metaverse experiments to real-world rewards” Peter Adams, Restaurant Dive). Restaurants are figuring out (or rather, hiring agencies to figure out) how to add real incentives to their forays into the metaverse. Pizza Hut is giving away free pizza for a year to lucky users who get randomly selected to receive a limited number of Pizza Hut NFTs; and Jimmy John’s lets users build-their-own sandwich for a chance to get that sandwich added to the actual JJ’s menu (as an LTO). It’s curious to see big brands dipping into a new, still-unproven, digital or technological front so early in its life, and while the user-base is still relatively small (outside Fortnite & Roblox). Likely, the threat to IP and the media-buzz around the metaverse have pushed normally slow-moving big brands to get in early, and well, now that they’re in the metaverse, they might as well look around and see how they can shape the place to their advantage. That said, Jimmy John’s is absolutely playing with fire with their activation; once the Internet hears they can build a sandwich that people could actually buy… well, The Oscars just learned that lesson the hard way.
🛍 Locale bundled delivery service expands in CA (“New Delivery Company Bundles Favorite Foods From Local Bakeries and Restaurants” Candice Woo, Eater). Locale is much less a direct competitor to 3PD than it is a complementary “slow” delivery/catering option. As a consumer you open up the app, put together an order from multiple restaurants, and await the delivery of all the goods in your cart at a later date. The service naturally leans more towards large orders and non-immediately consumed foods (like the bakeries & delis cited in the article). I think the larger note here is that on-demand delivery is really hard, so there are fewer competitors to the big deliverers in that arena; but in their outlying services, like convenience store, grocery, and bulk/catering delivery, there is much more room for competition at local and larger stages.
🧑🍳 Grubhub turns virtual-brand purveyor with the launch of MasterChef Table (“Grubhub launches MasterChef Table virtual restaurant nationwide” Julie Littman, Restaurant Dive). “Restaurant demand for these concepts is growing as well: As of April, 41% of independent restaurants were operating virtual brands, per a study released by Grubhub and Technomic.” I believe that many restaurants are willing to try virtual brands, and that that number has been growing. I also believe (and have stated before) that virtual brands can be successful, when carefully curated by the purveyor and thoughtfully implemented by the host. But I don’t believe we can simply say, “Virtual brands are doing great, according to these numbers from Grubhub, a seller of virtual brands” with any serious degree of confidence. There are still few case studies and fewer numbers that indicate the success of virtual restaurants for the host restaurant. And there’s little different about MasterChef Table itself (certainly nothing that would appear to lend it the longevity that almost all virtual brands are missing); aside from it being a brand by a collection of celebrities rather than a single celebrity.
Related: “Forward Kitchens Builds One-Off Virtual Restaurant Concepts” Tom Kaiser, Food On Demand. But hark! The antithesis of bulk virtual brands approaches! I don’t know about scalability, but pulling data and custom-designing virtual brands for individual restaurants certainly sounds like a formula for restaurant success (versus seller success).
😊 A rare story about one independent, family-run restaurant’s experience in a ghost kitchen (“How one Denver operator is testing the water with a virtual brand” Linnea Covington, Restaurant Hospitality). A considerate piece about one family’s experience opening a restaurant in a new city, with the goal of converting to a brick-and-mortar with enough success. This story contains the perspective that is often entirely missing from the ghost kitchen conversation; that of the independent operator. It’s not a testimonial, it’s not from the ghost kitchen company, it’s not a chain figurehead or franchisee, just a guy and his family utilizing a local ghost kitchen’s (ChefReady) lower entry costs to start a business that they believe can grow into the more-hospitable business they want it to be. Frankly, it reminds me a lot of the early days of KU. There may not be much new news here, but the article is a great encapsulation of why an independent operator might open a ghost kitchen, and the trials of doing so. (And if you’re in the Denver area, I’d give Khan Soke an order; the menu of traditional ingredients and family recipes sounds delicious).
⚾️ India’s cloud kitchen scene has another heavy-hitter (“Cloud kitchen startup Curefoods raises $43M led by Winter Capital” Economic Times). Rebel Foods has been the highlight of India’s cloud kitchen industry for years — but they’re not alone. Curefoods both develops its own brands and licenses others, but regardless of whose menu they’re rendering, does all the cooking itself. The company plans to, of course, expand (beyond its current 125 locations, all in India) and acquire.
😡 Everything you need to know about GoPuff’s The Mean Tomato (“How Gopuff is building its fresh food delivery concept” Gabriela Barco, Modern Retail). While DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Grubhub expanded from restaurant delivery into convenience and grocery, GoPuff is going at it from the opposite direction…sort of. The Mean Tomato is GoPuff’s first “Kitchens” brand and official hot-n-ready option. This article contains everything you’d ever need (or want) to know about why this is the right move for the new-age C-store — but ultimately, we’re just catching up with 7-11, here. Next brand on deck: “24-Hour Hot Dogs!” (Because the hot dogs at 7-11 roll around in that little hot box for…24…you get it).
🪦 F***ing g**da**it another stupid NFT restaurant (“San Francisco Is Getting Its Own NFT Restaurant Backed by a Bunch of Tech CEOs” Lauren Saria, Eater). Ah, Mitch, but this time, you see, it’s from a collective of Silicon Valley CEOs! Surely they of all people know best how to make a successful NFT restaurant? After all, having a “C” in your title means you’re an expert in success of all types!
🤹 Petty Corner: TikTok star at National Restaurant Show officially the youngest/coolest person there (“6 marketing and equipment innovations that caused a buzz at the restaurant show” Holly Petre, NRN). On the one hand, throwing ice cream around is entertaining in and of itself. In fact, we could use a lot more “just throwing stuff“ at the National Restaurant Show (aka the “Quantity Over Quality Showcase,” “The Trade-Showiest Trade Show of Them All,” or “Talk Tons, Buy None-s: The Show”) to spice things up. But you have to know that the aggressively middle-aged audience of the NRS had no earthly clue who this tinted-sunglasses-wearing, sweet treat-hurling TikTok prodigy was at the Nextbite stage. It’s like bringing Ninja (a video game streamer) to the national furniture show because he sits on a chair. But he could be sitting on your chair, eh??
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.