What are these ‘Dark Kitchens’ or ‘Ghost Kitchens’ I keep hearing about??
If life wasn’t scary enough in these troubled times, I’m now faced with the disconcerting news of so-called ‘dark’ or ‘ghost’ kitchens popping up in NSW cities and regional suburbs. My mind instantly leads me to crystallised methamphetamine labs, guarded by gun toting depressed chemistry teachers, ‘Breaking Bad’ style.
Fortunately for us, in this new world we are creating for ourselves it’s nothing quite as sinister, far more entrepreneurial and intuitive than I imagined, with a lot of scope for creative talent… And by no means least, Jamie Oliver will be pleased to put his ‘Pukka’ stamp of approval on this.
After the demise of a simple bite out, to eat and drink with a mate at a local restaurant, cafe or bar in response to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, and with a shift towards consumption of pre-prepared meals at home, NSW are relaxing rules for kitchens that only serve delivery customers, leading to the rise of food trucks and pop up kitchens!
Easing the rules for food trucks and ‘dark kitchens’
Street food is by no means a new thing, however the legislation surrounding such ventures have varied hugely from state to state, even city to city and in one instance from one side of the street to the other. Now planning rules in NSW have been relaxed for food trucks and ‘dark kitchens’ – also known as virtual kitchens, cloud kitchens, ghost kitchens – cooked meals solely for delivery, rather than eat-in.
Planning and Public Space Minister, Rob Stokes issued the Environmental Planning & Assessment (Covid-19 Development – Takeaway Food & Beverages) Order 2020. Stokes says he wishes to support the food and beverage industry, which is one of the hardest hit by the pandemic.
“That’s one of the reasons we’ve made it easier for people to set up and operate a dark kitchen in any existing commercial kitchen, providing they abide by social distancing”
Positive change for food truck owners
Finance & Small Business Minister Damian Tudehope said the order also included positive change for the food truck owners.
“During the COVID-19 crisis, food trucks will now be able to operate on any land, at any time, providing they have the landlords consent” Mr Tudehope said.
Now I can start to appreciate why these virtual kitchens make so much sense, when you look at the recent success of companies that bring meals to your door, such as Uber Eats, Deliveroo, Hello You and Menulog. More impressive is Brisbane based delivery app Bopple, whom are offering their platform, without the crippling 30-40% fees currently charged by the big players. Co-founder of Bopple is one Angus McLachlan, a passionate supporter of the hospitality industry, whom recognizes the rewards in supporting the industry whom has previously supported him.
Speaking to Mirage News. Mr McLachlan said “Bopple is empowering small businesses to stay alive in the escalating shutdowns and hygiene concerns. Hundreds of businesses are adapting to a new reality in the face of changes that are sweeping the nation. Popular venues such as Happy Boy, Gauge, Fonzie Abbott, Pawpaw Café, Corbett & Claude, Comuna Cantina and hundreds more have moved quickly to adapt their offering for online ordering”
Making the move to online ordering
San Francisco based Virtual Kitchen Co have received massive investment from former Uber execs with a reported $17 million. Virtual founder and CEO Ken Chong told VentureBeat. “A Restaurant brand can go from one location to 20 locations doing delivery only with minimal effort or upfront cost”.
The scope is endless when you consider makeshift kitchens are turning up in car parks and warehouses, from traditional food vans to shipping containers.
The risk factor in setting up a restaurant and famously cafes, is an expensive endeavor with no guarantees of success. However virtual kitchens can be set up anywhere a landlord gives permission and can service a local area.
- 2 people can now service what an average restaurant kitchen takes 10 staff. Cutting labor costs by 80%
- Consider meals in a restaurant that take 10-15 minutes to prepare are now ready in 5 minutes. Leading to lower overheads and increased output
- Rents that might be $100’s of dollars compared to shop fronts that cost $10’s of thousands, with new kitchens.
A simple but effective business model
I spoke today to a local entrepreneur Charlie Edwards, whom from his well equipped food van, is about to launch his dark kitchen, ‘Carlos & Co’ offering authentic American street food including burgers, chicken wings and slow cooked BBQ. Mr Edwards a food enthusiast says “Businesses are pivoting towards delivery solutions and I have secured a space in the car park of a local brew lab and coffee roaster, situated in an industrial estate. I hope to contribute to the local community by securing delivery drivers and by essentially using local produce and suppliers”.
Imagine how quickly a clever operator, like Charlie could scale such a simplistic but effective business model, without the overheads of large restaurant chain and command a far more interesting and sustainable menu.
I’m left with the knowledge that these so-called ‘Dark’ or ‘Ghost’ Kitchens are not the beginning of the end for our cuisine loving society, but a new trend for us to indulge, in the wake of our new world!
Written By Rob Marlowe