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This being a newsletter about restaurant tech, I normally spend more time on software and systems than actual food items. Last week, however, the big restaurant tech was the food.
Eat Just dropped news at the beginning of the week that it had made the world’s first sale of cultured meat (following regulatory approval earlier this month). The buyer? A venue in Singapore called 1880 that’s something of a mix between a restaurant, club, and social enterprise. Eat Just’s GOOD Meat Cultured Chicken made its debut at 1880 this past Saturday, Dec. 19, at a launch party.
The news is historic for both Eat Just and cultured meat. But it’s also a major milestone for the restaurant biz, which will play an important role in helping both consumers and regulators understand why we need (underscore that word) to shift to forms of protein that don’t require things like animal slaughter and deforestation to bring into being.
We’ve long known that dropping animal proteins from our food system is one of the most impactful things humans can do when it comes to preserving the planet. More recently, the United Nations pinpointed increased demand for animal protein as a major driver for zoonotic diseases, including COVID-19. It’s hard to summarize the urgency here in a few sentences, but the call to action very clear at this point: change our diets or barrel straight into a future of mass food insecurity, extinct species, regions (including Singapore) completely under water, and the whole collapse of living systems.
The way to express those points is, quite frankly, not through newsletters like this but through culinary experiences that illustrate frightening stuff while simultaneously providing solutions for what could be.
Speaking to me on the phone this week, Eat Just said it chose 1880 as a launch partner because of the venue’s “focus on the future of food” and mission “to build a better planet.” Working together, the two created a menu for the launch of GOOD that essentially brings to life the urgency around finding more sustainable sources of protein.
About 40 people were invited to a four-course meal designed to be a history of our food system, from foraging to farming to melting icecaps. According to materials sent by Eat Just, “Each of course represent[s] an element of the story told through the life of the red junglefowl, the wild ancestor of domesticated chickens, which is found throughout Southeast Asia and is on the ‘endangered’ list in the Red Data Book, an anthology of Singapore natural heritage.” Providing a culinary representation of what the future could be if we stopped relying on animal protein, the meal culminated with three cultured chicken dishes, each one influenced by a top chicken-producing country: Brazil, China, and the U.S.
Importantly, Eat Just’s cultured chicken will also be available for purchase on 1880’s menu moving forward. (Attendees paid for the fourth course cultured chicken dish at the launch, too.) Even more important, the cost of a cultured chicken dish at 1880 will be around $23 USD, which is on par with regular chicken dishes at that venue and at most other upscale restaurants The feasible price point is huge, since reaching price parity with traditional meat is a major requirement for the evolution of cell-based meat from prototype to dietary staple.
Restaurants are essential when it comes to providing (relatively affordable) experiences with cultured meat because they have historically always played a role in the evolution of the what we eat. Consider the hamburger. As a food item, it’s older than the United States by centuries. But it wasn’t until White Castle opened in 1921 and introduced the world to “the slider” that the burger started down the path to ubiquity and eventually became a standard of diets around the world.
That evolution took the better part of a century, which is to say that cultured meat will not come to White Caste or any other QSR tomorrow. It might not even hit those mainstream outlets next year. But as more cultured meat companies like Eat Just gain regulatory approval and provide culinary experiences and education, more consumers, governments, and food producers will start to better understand why we need it, along with other forms of alt protein, in the years to come. The hope of many is that cultured meat will eventually reach every grocery store shelf and dining table from Singapore to Dickson, Tennessee. To get there we need restaurants first.
Craving a Better Ghost Kitchen Experience
Speaking of upscale dining, this week Crave Hospitality Group announced it had raised $7.3 million in seed funding for its Crave Collective facility in Boise, Idaho.
Funding for ghost kitchens is definitely not exceptional in 2020. But as we learned recently when Crave took us on a virtual tour of its Boise facility, this company approaches the model a little differently. Food coming out of Crave’s kitchens is not your average burger-in-a-to-go-box fare. Rather, the company has teamed up with James Beard Nominees and Food Network Champions alike to bring a more upscale flair to the virtual restaurant/ghost kitchen experience. The idea is not to replace fine-dining restaurants where culinary creativity is valued above speed and efficiency. Rather, it’s to give these chefs and their restaurants a chance to reinvent their menus and in doing so hopefully survive the apocalyptic collapse of the an entire industry.
Crave’s funding news this week is a good sign for full-service restaurants, which have struggled more than any other restaurant type during the pandemic. If investors are willing to bank on one upscale concept for ghost kitchens and virtual restaurants, chances are, they’ll fund more of them in the coming months and in doing so save some jobs and culinary experiences in the process.
Restaurant Tech ‘Round the Web
In a first for the restaurant industry, the National Restaurant Association teamed up with third-party delivery services to release its Public Policy Principles for Third Party Delivery. The framework acts as a guide for lawmakers, offering best practices when it comes to third-party delivery services.
Burger King teamed up with Google this week to let customers search out, order, and pay for Burger King fare via Google Search, Maps, and Pay. More than 5,000 BK restaurants in the U.S. will provide this service.
For the first time ever this week, Shake Shack made delivery available directly via its own digital properties. Customers with the iOS app can order delivery meals directly from the brand, rather than going through a third-party platform. That said, Uber Eats is onboard as the exclusive handler of the last mile for this program.