One thing the restaurant industry has in abundance right now is underutilized kitchen space. A lot of that extra space unfortunately exists because of widespread restaurant closures that are permanent. The small silver lining here is that some of that space is actually getting repurposed for the restaurant biz as ghost kitchens and virtual brands continue to grow in popularity.
Case in point: the Specialty’s Café & Bakery chain shuttered permanently in May of 2020 because of “current market conditions attributed to COVID-19 and shelter-in-place policies.” Today, digital kitchen platform C3 (Creating Culinary Communities) announced it has acquired 22 former Specialty’s locations and will use the spaces to launch a new digital brand, EllaMia.
The locations will also house other C3 brands, which include Unami Burger, Krispy Rice, and Sam’s Crispy Chicken. The idea is to house multiple virtual restaurant concepts under one roof, essentially turning each of those shuttered Specialty’s locations into a mini food hall. Users can bundle items from all of the different concepts at a particular location into a single order, which is placed and paid for via the C3 app. Orders will also be available for pickup.
The draw of repurposing underutilized kitchen space, rather than renting infrastructure from a more traditional commissary, is that it is potentially much cheaper for digital restaurant companies like C3. Existing kitchen spaces usually come with a good amount of the physical kitchen infrastructure built in. Many other companies are also taking advantage of the concept, including Ordermark/NextBite, which pairs restaurants with unused kitchen spaces, and Fat Brands.
C3 founder and CEO Sam Nazarian said in today’s press release that underutilized kitchen space is “key to the C3 model” and that this new endeavor means “operating 100 distinct dining concepts in a third of the space required by a traditional restaurant.”
The EllaMia concept, meanwhile, has two existing locations, in Dubai and London. The first of these new U.S. locations will open in February at former Specialty’s in Chicago, Seattle, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Orange County.