Restaurateurs band together to solve delivery-only dilemma. There’s no denying that delivery is huge and is only continuing to grow. As operators have been trying to add the service, several so-called virtual restaurants—kitchen-only spaces designed as hubs for delivery—opened up. The dining room-free model promised fewer requirements in terms of square footage, location and design. And as quickly as they opened up, many have closed.

“The biggest challenge with virtual restaurants today is the labor [cost and requirements] being so high,” says Massimo Noja De Marco, chief culinary officer for Kitchen United. So he and his team instead set out to find a way to reduce labor. 

Kitchen United, launching in Pasadena, Calif., with a second site planned for Los Angeles and more to follow, is a two-part operation: One section is shared kitchen spaces for those looking to launch or experiment with new products. The other part is a multikitchen virtual restaurant, designed specifically to allow restaurant brands to expand their delivery offerings.

Each restaurant has its own space, rented by the month. The vision, says CEO Jim Collins, is to “make each kitchen as efficient as possible so that the restaurants don’t require extra staff on site, beyond cooking teams.” That meant developing a kitchen that runs without an expediter, both in terms of finding a way for cooks to read orders on whatever technology they come in on and getting accurate orders out to the third-party delivery drivers.

Each of the seven Pasadena virtual kitchens is designed to have just one or two people running the line. Kitchen United runners pick up food from the line, and expediters take food to the delivery drivers, Noja De Marco says: “Cooks don’t have to triple-check the orders.”

The concept also eliminated any use of a complicated POS system, streaming together a series of best-of-breed technologies that allows cooks to fire orders from a cloud-based order stream. The system culls orders from the restaurants’ own ordering channels and third-party delivery platforms, lets cooks know when to fire food and communicates pickup times so orders go out on time, Collins says.

Kitchen United spaces are designed to solve a few outward-facing issues with virtual restaurants as well. The Pasadena location, for example, has a large parking lot for drivers. It also has a public access point. Customers can pick up orders placed online, or even place their orders in-house on tablets.

One thing Kitchen United doesn’t have is its own ordering platform. Right now, there are a lot of ordering systems trying to attract consumer eyeballs, says Collins. “Rather than be a me-too player, we’re focused on integrating with all of them so we can really solve the consumer and restaurant requirements,” he says.

With a C-level team made up of executives from McDonald’s, Taco Bell and SBE Entertainment, Kitchen United was built for scalability. While Collins couldn’t share specific brands, he says operators from indies and national chains are interested in launching a delivery experience inside Kitchen United as it grows. The first site is set to open with a mix of well-known local restaurants and regional brands. 

“The restaurant industry is changing. As it changes, the landscape changes, and the way we do business has to change. We think we can be an enabler in a good way.”
—Jim Collins, kitchen united