In what’s a first for the manufacturing side of foodservice, Middleby is bringing its restaurant equipment expertise to the world of ghost kitchens. Through L2F, which is owned by Middleby, the company has launched a line of out-of-the-box ghost kitchen solutions that provides restaurants everything they need to fulfill consumer demand for off-premises food orders, from concept to equipment.
Demand for those orders is growing. The National Restaurant Association predicts that off-premises ordering — delivery, drive-thru, and takeout — will drive the bulk of restaurant sales over the next decade. In response, restaurants are turning to ghost kitchens.
But since no two restaurants are exactly the same, it follows that different businesses have different needs and approaches when it comes to ghost kitchens. Some are working with the likes of Kitchen United and other commissary kitchens for offsite space. Others need less infrastructure and are simply revamping their own kitchens to accommodate the new business. Still others want a more mobile solution that can move from place to place to fulfill customer demand.
Middleby’s new offerings are meant to address all different types of ghost kitchen needs. To be clear: Middleby doesn’t actually operate the ghost kitchens, nor is it simply a consulting-like service. Instead, the company helps restaurants pick the right kind of ghost kitchen (mobile, standalone, commissary, etc.), customize it, and stock it with all equipment they will need. L2F can then fit the kitchen solution into a ghost kitchen provider’s specific specs and even architectural designs.
“We’re trying to make this simple for people who are going into ghost kitchens,” L2F President Shawn Lange told me over the phone last week. “We will build up kitchens for people, box it up, send it out, we can carry you all the way through to store openings.”
For example, the Commissary Ghost Kitchen solution can house multiple concepts under a single roof. Lange says these are the types of ghost kitchens that would act as a hub (hence the name) in a hub-and-spoke business model. Food is made in this main kitchen, then either delivered to the consumer or transferred to another point (mobile kitchen, kiosk, etc.), where it is cooked or re-thermalized and prepared for pickup or delivery.
While Lange didn’t mention specific clients on the phone, in theory, Middleby/L2F could work with, say, Zuul Kitchens to build out one of these Commissary Hubs without Zuul having to conceptualize its own design or find all the appropriate equipment for different restaurant types. Everything in the Hub, from the refrigerators to ranges to vegetable peelers, is manufactured by Middleby and Middleby-owned brands. Zuul would simply plug a few restaurants into the space and be up and running.
Still, not every restaurant needs four-plus kitchens and endless specialized equipment. Many actually require smaller, more mobile concepts, which is the other focus of Enhanced Ghost Kitchens.
“There is a lot of discussion going down with having more mobile-type restaurants,” says Lange. To that end, Middleby teamed up with third-party manufacturers of food trucks and mobile kitchens to help execute on its smaller ghost kitchen concepts, including food truck manufacturer One Fat Frog and Kitchen Podular, who helps companies build semi-permanent kitchens from scratch.
That L2F and Middleby are now designing ghost kitchens isn’t actually a huge left turn. The company is one of the largest foodservice equipment manufacturers in the world, and its portfolio already services many of food tech’s current movers and shakers, including McDonald’s, Domino’s, and Panera. L2F, in particular, has experience in the world of mobile food initiatives, having already done work with both CafeX and Zume Pizza.
Zume has since shuttered its pizza business, and mobile kitchens still make up a relatively small part of the current ghost kitchen landscape. Solutions that make it easier to implement and run a mobile kitchen could grow this category, so in that sense, L2F and Middleby are ahead of the competition here.
That could be said of any ghost kitchen type, actually. Middleby doesn’t have any direct competition from another foodservice manufacturer right now, and since the product line just launched, it’s too soon to tell if restaurants and ghost kitchen operators will respond to it. However, this is an era in foodservice where speed, efficiency, and convenience rule. Being able to plug an end-to-end ghost kitchen into a restaurant operation certainly ticks all three of those boxes, and more. That type of solution could well become popular as more restaurants scramble to leverage not just any ghost kitchen but the right ghost kitchen for their business.