"vibrant kitchens" | spooky kitchens #14
April 15th, 2022. DoorDash gives college kids an incentive to spend, virtual brands' visionary next evolution, and yes, even more NFTs.
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)
No feature this week…but next week we begin a two-part series on the metaverse: the basics, the future, and what folks in food need to know.
Now fire all apps no entrees!
👀 Witness the metaverse through regular, 2D, non-VR pictures (“See inside the virtual worlds created by Wendy's, Chipotle, and McDonald's as the metaverse becomes the latest battleground for fast food” Mary Meisenzahl, Business Insider). If you’ve been having trouble imagining the metaverse and all two restaurants inside it, here’s some help from a nifty Business Insider slideshow. My takeaway is that the metaverse has a long, long way to go before it becomes something the public is truly excited about (and not just vaguely interested by). The first step it’ll have to get past: signage written in Arial font.
Us resident nerds are also going to be doing some heavy “metaverse v. multiverse” lifting with all the multiverse movies coming out the next few years. Btw, go see “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once” and thank me later.
✏️ DoorDash creates DashPass for Students to get college kids to buy more food they can’t afford (“DoorDash adds cheaper subscription tier for takeaway-hungry students” Jon Porter, The Verge). You know, I’ve been to college. *Smirks.* So I know that the college people love delivery. And I don’t blame them. College-era delivery is where I encountered my most beloved delivery dish, Singapore Mee Fun (thin rice noodles stir fried w/ yellow curry and various other good stuff). But it’s so, so pricey. Multiple times pricier than your average meal plan. So while it’s normal to add a pricing tier for a specific, high-demand demographic…this particular focus does feel a bit predatory. If nothing else, I guess our up-and-coming minds will learn money management the hard way (where you check your CC bill at the end of the month and then spend the next five to ten minutes putting your eyes back in your head).
🚙 REEF partners with an electric adventure vehicle company for test rides & last mile delivery? (“Leading Electric Adventure Vehicle Brand - UBCO - Announces Global Partnership with REEF Technology” PRNewswire). This is one of the stranger partnerships I’ve read about, and frankly one of the stranger press releases. On its face – REEF partnering with UBCO (electric vehicle-maker) to open outlets at REEF Neighborhood Hubs around the world – things seem fairly simple. But after that broad mission, one thing stands out: the lack of specifics regarding the details of the partnership activation. “UBCO Hubs are being designed with a two-pronged approach – offering scalable, efficient test rides on a local basis while being positioned among food delivery outlets with strong rideshare and last-mile delivery needs.” That feels…odd. We’ve seen stunt marketing re: food delivery in supercars before, but this feels a little bit like, “Oh you want a space in our Hubs? Ok, but we’re going to put you to work, too.”
Beyond that, I think REEF has a broader struggle with explaining itself. Here its company description is, “largest operator in the world of multi-purpose, neighborhood spaces…that enable the delivery of new goods, services and curated customer experiences, including urban kitchens, vertical farms, rideshare and last-mile” and also “the largest operator of parking real estate and delivery restaurants in North America.” Which may all be vaguely true statements, but if I’m reading that, I’m thinking that sounds like a whole lot of eggs for one shipping-container-filled neighborhood basket.
🔊 “Wake up sheeple! Everyone will have NFTs by 2025!” says man sunk deep into NFTs (“Are NFTs the future for restaurants — or a novelty?” Joanna Fantozzi, NRN). Continuing a string of memorable ridiculous quotes from the ever-entertaining realm of food tech, New York restaurateur and apparent seer Stratis Morfogen says, “Everybody looked at me like I was crazy when I said by the year 1999 everyone will have a website…I’m predicting now that by the year 2025, every restaurant and every retailer will have NFTs and a metaverse presence.” Did you hear that? Three years! Until every restaurant and retailer has an NFT and metaverse presence! Get out there and start building your virtual business now! Otherwise Stratis will look like a real dingus!
Here’s my thing about NFT-exclusive restaurants or clubs: think about the people who buy NFTs. Picture them, in all their six-plus figure-earning, Patagonia vest-wearing glory. Do you really want them to be your entire clientele? Because to me, that sounds like the 4th circle of hell. (Note: “The 4th Circle of Hell” is actually an amazing NFT-speakeasy/restaurant/club idea that I will fully support even when it is stolen from me.)
I don’t think it’s a reach to say that eventually most NFT-exclusive spaces will have to open up to a broader audience — there are simply not enough NFT owners, and not enough who will attend any establishment consistently, to be sustainable in the long run (or even the medium run). The upfront revenue boost of NFT sales is great — but this is still a niche, niche, niche space. So ultimately my answer to Ms. Fantozzi’s title question is: they’re a novelty.
🔨 Another Kitchen United / Cloud Kitchens-model ghost kitchen opens, this time in Canada (“Ghost kitchen incubator Markt Brands to launch this fall” Sharon Yeo, Taproot Edmonton). Let’s go down this ghost kitchen rendering checklist: Clever multi-restaurant branding? Check. A single visible staff member implying low labor inputs? Check-a-doo. Smart pickup boxes indicating implementation of labor-reducing, cutting-edge tech? Check-a-roni. A giant, illuminated logo looming on the wall lest customers forget who owns this newfangled restaurant experience? Check-tacular. Anyway, Markt is the latest Kitchen United-like concept to open in Canada’s (hopefully) bustling Edmonton metro area. Good luck to them and the national expansion plans they’ve announced (check).
💡 Okay, “vibrant kitchens” is a new one (“The mystery of London’s dark kitchens” Chiara Wilkinson, Angela Hui, Time Out). I’ll admit, I started reading this article thinking, “Great, another reporter’s “discovered” ghost kitchens, congratulations,” and there may be a little of that energy here, but it’s really a thorough catchup and overview of the UK dark kitchens industry. It briefly touches on some history of the space, names the current leaders, and covers recent speed bumps like deteriorating local sentiment and hiring struggles. As always, the first-hand accounts of dark kitchens sound ominous while executives from restaurants that use them attempt to assuage safety and comfort concerns with a mix of truth and probably-exaggerated harmony (dance music Thursdays? Hrm). My last takeaway is simply that, while I understand the purpose of calling your dark kitchens “vibrant kitchens” Mr. Quoted Manager, you’ve managed to somehow concoct a term that means even less to the average person than “ghost kitchen.” But whatever helps keep your restaurant staffed!
😋 Virtual brands look ahead to a future where their food is actually good (“How virtual brands matured from curious idea to pandemic life saver” Holly Petre, NRN). Listen: there is nothing new in this article. It’s virtual brand people talking about why virtual brands are great (until the very end when Chili’s is like, “Mm, actually, we’re good with just the one.”). IHOP also started some virtual brands, but they don’t batter (hah). I’m here to point out two things: (1) that Robert Earl can still only cite MrBeast as the lone Virtual Dining Concepts success case, and (2) this absolutely wild quote from NRN editor-in-chief Sam Oches: “What this (hiring of VDC’s first CEO) could represent for Virtual Dining Concepts is going in the direction of maturation…If virtual brands can mature to where they take a step back and say … let’s take a second to develop some really thought-through, delicious food … and then go to market with that, I think that would have to be the next step.”
To paraphrase: the next step for virtual brands is to start making good food and then sell it. I mean, wow. The insight. A true revolution in dining is nigh!
🤵 Fuku opens host kitchens in Dallas (“Leading Electric Adventure Vehicle Brand - UBCO - Announces Global Partnership with REEF Technology” Sarah Blaskovich, Dallas Morning News). Fuku’s had a rocky road with ghost kitchens – but they’ve stuck with it. Now Fuku is back in Dallas (after exiting the market when they dropped Reef a few months ago), operating through (unnamed) restaurants via Franklin Junction, the middleman company that pairs brands willing to license with host kitchens willing to cook. I believe these host kitchens are a first for Fuku – a growing chain determined to keep testing its concept in various new formats. Here’s hoping this time things click.
🐐 Dessert: Watch Severance. That’s it!
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 (and frequently updated) to help make sense of this weird and wild west.