A New Kind Of Ghost Kitchen Is Building The Future Of Flexible Food Service
Kitchen Podular's CEO speaks to PSFK about the food service industry's unrelenting need for greater delivery and pickup capacity, and how his pod-based service helps brands creatively repurpose unused space to easily boost their flexibility—and revenue
- Kitchen Podular is a service that builds modular ghost kitchens for food service providers in the age of increasing demand for anytime delivery and order-ahead pickup.
- Based in Las Vegas, the brand focuses on minimally interfering with existing infrastructures, instead creatively repurposing unused spaces and facilities—like empty sit-down restaurants, old car washes or open landscape—to help events, retailers, hospitality brands and more increase agility and sales.
- PSFK spoke to president & CEO Michael Manion to explore the consumer behaviors driving a need for off-premise business, what makes Kitchen Podular different from other ghost kitchens and where the food services space is heading next.
What inspired you to start Kitchen Podular?
It was about two years ago. We saw the movement, we understood the way that the chain restaurants worked, and we knew we could make them more efficient, avoiding having to scale their menu back to handle increased delivery demand. We came up with our own version that was a cross between restaurants and delivery: Kitchen Podular.
We build modular construction. We basically take out everything that's not necessary for our ghost kitchen. You need a pick‑up window, you need a drive‑thru window and voila. The main difference between us and some of the commissary ghost kitchens out there is mostly that they're inside of a warehouse or a building and the driver has to go inside and pick up.
We are a building. We need non‑traditional real estate, whether it's a bunch of shrubs or an area set back off the side of a building. It's something that can be taken out, be placed in and all of a sudden, your cap rate goes up. You have non‑traditional revenue off of your non‑traditional real estate that was just sitting there. Maybe it was landscaping.
We don't use shipping containers. We build from scratch. We can build any size and shape, but the important thing is we use a facade and we make it fit into the environment. We build it with that brand's look and feel—a mini version of it.
We are a ghost kitchen, meaning we're a satellite kitchen that you can serve food out of for delivery or for pickup. In Europe, they call them dark kitchens because they don't always have to have the look and feel the brand they might represent.
The main difference between Kitchen Podular and maybe a typical commissary kitchen is that these often house multiple brands under one roof. We are four walls, your own walking cooler, your own dishwashing bomb, and sink, and dishwasher—you have everything to run your business yourself in your own environment. A lot of brands that we're dealing with really respect this because that's the definition: A brand is proprietary.
What emerging consumer needs did you notice that you wanted to meet and fulfill better with this service?
There's always a marketplace for eating out. I love to eat out more than delivery myself, but we're all really busy and have a lot of demands, with kids, our jobs. Everything's digital, which means you move faster and harder, so why not just get the food delivered?
With the trend of delivery, it's not as necessary to have a 10,000 square‑foot restaurant that's half empty. If 50% of your revenue is coming from delivery, then you need to hub and spoke it.
Everybody searches for “near me.” That's the most popular search online. You search “I want tacos,” and boom, “Oh, my God, that restaurant is here in my area, and they'll deliver it to me or I could pick it up? Great.”
What we're finding is that with some of the major brands we're dealing with, they'll go pay for that number one iconic location in a city. Traditionally, for a box restaurant, the cost is $800,000 to $1.2 million to lay the building and run the infrastructure.
With us, we're about $150,000 for the pod, and your equipment can cost upwards of $200,000 depending on what you use. So it's four restaurants to one. It's a big difference.
What types of clients, ranging from hospitality brands to pure restaurants, do you most often work with?
We have the gamut of it. There's no clear standout brand that's different. Every brand is doing this all at once now because it is a buzzword. As their lease start to expire, they are downgrading—they don't need that sit-down dining room. Everybody's trying to figure out the best way to do it right now.
What are some of the most notable places you've built pods?
A self‑serve car wash. Think about it. You have power, water, utilities—it's all right there. They're all close to homes, they're all old and not remodeled, and so we can easily go in and improve it. It's usually a space saver for somebody preserving that land to do a development or something. I think that's probably one of the most unique ones we've done.
One of the trends we are tracking right now at PSFK is the creative repurposing of spaces. This seems right up Kitchen Podular's alley.
Think about all the unused space here in Vegas. They used to build everything set back, and then have acres in front of these casinos that were just nothing. That is valuable real estate. A lot of Americans felt that way. So, in front of these locations, on the side, tucked in the corners, that's where we thrive. It doesn't interfere.
What do you think we'll see more of in the future of food service? More flexible, delivery-friendly types of spaces, or something else?
Automation. I think voice automation will triple revenue for drive‑thrus. Automakers are starting to put apps in where you can just order food through your car. Also drone delivery, we're going to be the Jetsons very soon.
Ironically, in India, in China, in Canada and in Britain, they're all so much further ahead of us with these models. We're just catching on to it right now.
Why do you think that is?
Because we have restaurant chains here that are massive. Nobody else has the type of chains that we have. We have chains that have 10,000 restaurants in America. We just specialize in that. When you're a big brand, you're a big ship, and they move slower. They just don't adapt to technology and such as fast as somebody smaller and more agile. With that said, they're all moving fast now.
I think that all that is going to have an impact on how we get our food. I think that commissary kitchens, ghost kitchens and pods are all going to thrive in this. It's a free for all right now. Nobody owns the whole thing.
Lead image: Kitchen Podular