From Zero To Awesome: Turning Food Preparation Into An Enterprise

From Zero To Awesome: Turning Food Preparation Into An Enterprise

Kitchen United’s first commercial kitchen space in Pasadena, CA opened this week. It’s an exciting step to see the proof of concept come to life and get such great feedback. The space is fully rented out, and every chef we talk to is intrigued by the idea of being able to efficiently serve delivery, takeout, and catering business from a space optimized for that purpose.

And now we are faced with a question: How to turn the proof of concept into a thriving business that stretches across the country? We are fortunate to have restaurant experience, technology experience, and real estate experience on our team. Each new location Kitchen United creates will be based on the best of the restaurant industry, challenged with technology design thinking that makes our locations even better.

There are five keys to doing this well:

1) Meet Ecosystem Needs through a Frictionless Experience

Listening to our customers is critical. To solve their problems, we have to listen carefully to what they are challenged by. Today that includes how to get closer to their consumers in a capital-efficient way, how to deal with the fragmentation of delivery service providers, and how to create a great consumer experience off-premise. Delivery is early days…these challenges will evolve as the market evolves and Kitchen United will have to continually listen and adapt.

Beyond our customers, there is an entire ecosystem whose needs we also must consider — the cooks on the lines, delivery drivers, consumers, and of course, our own staff. Every voice must be heard to create systems that are both effective and easy for all stakeholders to use.

Where our locations are, how they are designed, the protocols to operate them to deliver great food, fast, and safely all come together to solve problems for the entire food service ecosystem.

2) Move Fast, AND Incorporate Scalability

Kitchen United is moving with the speed of a nimble startup out to make its mark on the world. But every decision is balanced — what will doing it this way be like when we are doing it 5000 times? How will this decision work in 50 locations? 100?

Scalability is different than scale. It’s easy to be big. The challenge is being big and excellent. Therefore scalability doesn’t just mean adding locations, it means thinking through their management ahead of time. How do we achieve the highest levels of replication, simplifying site management? How do we monitor for error conditions, both locally and remotely, to make sure we’re responsive. How do we design our environment so it is most efficiently used by KU’s customers, whether localized catering businesses or food trucks or national restaurant chains?

To be sure, technology helps. These days there are a plethora of applications designed to meet specific needs. KU’s focus is to use best of breed technologies connected in new and novel ways to allow both rapid start-up and the broad view necessary to make changes as we learn.

In a commercial kitchen environment though, technology goes way beyond the tablet and computer systems sitting on the counters. In fact, in KU centers, online technologies fine-tune hood performance, creating the safest environment for cooks. Plumbing interfaces are state of the art and where it is practical the most efficient devices are used to reduce our carbon footprint.

3) Create a Replicable, Consistent Experience That Is ALSO Flexible

Digital enables 100% customizable experiences. The physical world is struggling to keep up with the expectations created by this onslaught of choices. In many ways, that’s what Kitchen United is all about — helping food entrepreneurs and restaurants bring more choices to more people.

Kitchen United also practices what it preaches — if consumers want more choice, so will food entrepreneurs and restaurants. But treating every request as an exception is not scalable (see #2), and so our locations will standardize exceptions. Meaning, we will assume that there will be an exception to every rule, and the system must be designed to accommodate those in a seamless way.

The best analog for this in the physical world today is “mass customization” as offered by retailers like Room & Board, Nike, and Levi’s or auto manufacturers. By putting parameters around choices, designing a system that can easily incorporate them, and fitting a series of discrete choices together into a custom instance, these physical-world companies are approximating the online experience consumers are growing to expect.

In the same way, KU is capable of tailoring kitchens to meet distinct restaurant requirements, in most instances without “changing the bones.” What configuration do you need to render your food in the most effective way? Let’s get that set up and get you going.

4) Data-Centric Design

Unlike the internet, a physical location has physical constraints that prevent “everything” from being offered. The role of any retailer, real estate developer, or restaurant is to curate the offering to as closely as possible match the local population’s needs.

Data is critical to this effort. In particular where facilities are located and what the ideal tenant mix is in each is a data-based decision; but so are operational questions like capacity, staffing, merchandising and inventory.

As food consumption shifts to evermore off-premise occasions, what was observable behavior in the restaurant now becomes invisible to the human eye. Order-to-delivery times, food safety execution, consumer behavior all need to be measured, analyzed, and acted on with as little human intervention as possible. The Kitchen United proof-of-concept location in Pasadena is already loaded with cameras, kiosks, smart printers, and monitors to systematize and digitize restaurant operations. As we observe behavior in the first locations, we will innovate the technology offering to take restaurant operations even farther into the future.

5) Challenge the Status Quo…Even When It’s You

We’ve talked a lot at Kitchen United about our culture. As a start-up, we have an awesome opportunity, and a big responsibility, to create a place where people want to work, where the ecosystem wants to partner, and where consumers are better off because of our existence. We see ourselves as the enabler to a sea change in the industry. Artisan producers are popping up everywhere, food creators want to innovate, restaurants are changing how they engage with consumers.

To us, this means we have a responsibility to always be looking for a better way to enable our partners’ success, even once we’ve become not-so-startup.


-Meredith Sandland | Chief Operating Officer | @meresandland