Operators have to make some tweaks to get into a shared kitchen space successfully. It can be easy for the right brands, but even those with small menus and few ingredients will have things to learn.
Melissa Surby-Curtin, the director of franchise operations at The Halal Guys, shared her insight on what it’s like to get into a shared kitchen space like the one she now oversees at the Kitchen United facility in Pasadena, California. It is the brand’s first foray into a shared space, but Halal Guys will soon start operating within a new Cloud Kitchens facility, as well.
Thus far, working within the space has been great for Halal Guys, but some of the locations are tighter than others, which could cause friction for restaurants with a larger menu or number of ingredients.
“We have a very small menu, so it’s perfect for us. Looking at some of the other brands, you’d really have to simplify it down. Most of these spaces are 10-by-12 or 10-by-10, so you have to utilize ever inch of that space and use every ingredient for multiple things,” said Surby-Curtin. “For a QSR with 65 menu items, it might be tough.”
And for someone like Cheesecake Factory, well, “they would just do cheesecake,” she said.
Halal Guys initially went into the facility, because it was an ideal territory for the brand on paper, but the real estate availability just wasn’t there.
“Real estate is very difficult to get for us in certain markets,” Surby-Curtin added. “Our franchisee in SoCal had been looking at new markets and Pasadena was a great fit for us in Kitchen United. We don’t have a store there, and we were looking for a while.”
The Pasadena area is densely populated, with a high median income and a diverse population—all prime indicators for its locations.
“That’s the great thing about these commissaries, you really can have the opportunity to put your (toe) in the water a little bit and see the brand reception,” said Surby-Curtin.
She added that its Pasadena franchisee is still getting into the rhythm of the delivery and pick-up kitchen. Due to the nature of the beast, timing is slightly different than the lunch rush in traditional locations.
“Sales are growing all the time, we kind of are feeling out when our peak times are going to be. It’s interesting, by the time people get home that mealtimes are always delayed a little bit. And with lunch, it starts earlier, so we’re still trying to figure out the highs and lows of sales times so we’re able to gauge when we need the right people and the right amount of food,” said Surby-Curtin.
She said the franchisee has been able to operate with half the normal staff of a traditional Halal Guys—a big perk in this era of extreme labor scarcity. Some operators could get away with a single cook. In markets the brand does have traditional locations, a virtual operation could help keep things manageable, and let the staff better focus on the in-house customers.
“Lunch at Halal Guys sounds like a Vegas casino, when you’re churning out 20 to 40 orders an hour plus retail on top of that, it’s crazy. This really helps take the pressure off peak lunch or diner times by putting delivery in a different location,” she said. “For the guest perspective, it’s been challenging on the restaurant side, the face-to-face interaction is very important. When you take away from that, the guest may not understand the team is focused on these virtual orders, (and) they feel less valued.”
An unexpected plus from the Pasadena shared kitchen has been the ability to offer pick-up guests wider variety restaurants under one roof to overcome the veto risk if one person wants something different.
“The parents that come in with their kids can get a grilled cheese and the parents can get Halal Guys. We wanted to market that portion of it, not for other brands, but it feeds into that convenience,” said Surby-Curtin, making for a collegial atmosphere among the brands therein. “We all feed off each other.”
The Cloud Kitchen facility is roughly twice the size of the first Kitchen United space and does not allow carryout, so that’s something she will be watching closely in the coming weeks.
“It’ll be interesting especially because that is a very large commissary compared to Kitchen United,” she said. “I’m going to bring my armchair and sit on the sidewalk and watch it all play out.”