For all the talk of ghost kitchens housing exclusive new food concepts, there are still plenty of traditional restaurant companies using these facilities to so something far simpler: keep up with the influx of delivery orders.
Wetzel’s Pretzels and The Halal Guys are two such companies. Today, Kitchen United, which rents kitchen space to restaurants announced the two chains will move into KU’s 12,000-square-foot space in Pasadena, CA, to further their delivery businesses.
This is Wetzel Pretzel’s first move in terms of adding delivery. The company’s long history of being a suburban mall storefront (and a great place at which to cut school) had apparently caused them “major logistical challenges,” according to an interview with new CEO Jennifer Schuler. She didn’t go into the specifics of why a “mall-based concept” is challenging to adapt to delivery, but it’s not hard to guess. Mall dining concepts were created in a pre-delivery era, purely targeting on-premises traffic. They’re not built, physically or operationally, for the extra hardware, drivers waiting around for food, or reliance on online traffic that have become the norm. With Wetzel’s in particular, a mall “location” is sometimes nothing more than a large kiosk.
Their deal with Kitchen United is a prime example of how ghost kitchens can assist businesses like Wetzel’s who want to transition to delivery, but would otherwise have to start building standalone brick-and-mortar stores to keep up with volume. Since that’s a stupidly ineffective way to do business, Wetzel’s, who is also headquartered in Pasadena, will instead bake its famous pretzels in KU’s Pasadena, CA-based location starting April 1. The goal is to “test and learn,” as Schuler put it, to see if consumers want pretzels delivered to their door instead of just while shopping at the mall.
I’m kind of skeptical, at least where the chain’s signature item is concerned. If memory serves correctly, soft pretzels are best served piping hot, and they cool down faster than you can say “pass the mustard.” They’re in opposition to the idea currently trending in the delivery sector: that food choices should be based on what gets better when you factor in a car (or bike) ride and an extra 15 minutes. That is, unless Wetzel’s has some kind of packaging innovation up its sleeve that will keep the pretzels hot in transit. There’s also the fact that Wetzel’s mostly makes snack foods — pizza bites, little hot dogs, in addition to pretzels — and one wonders if people will pay a delivery fee for something you could just as easily heat in the microwave.
Schuler emphasized the “test” aspect of this venture, and noted that the company sees the Kitchen United deal “as an incubator.”
The Halal Guys, whose business strategy has included delivery for some time, also announced (via the same press release) they’ve moved into the KU Pasadena facility to accommodate more demand.
“As a brand that started as a food cart in NYC, we know firsthand the value of providing an off-premise experience for our customers,” Thomas Pham, CEO of Halal Guys franchise Halal or Nothing, said in the release. The chain already has locations in Southern California; joining Kitchen United is a way to widen its reach in that area without incurring the costs of another brick-and-mortar location.
Kitchen United, meanwhile, has been expanding rapidly over the last year, from the lone Pasadena location to a center in Chicago and plans to open facilities in Atlanta, GA, Scottsdale, AZ, and Columbus, OH this year. It’s even launched its own virtual-restaurant concept, Fresgo, at the Pasadena location.
The two companies join existing Kitchen United partners Canter’s Deli, Mama Musubi, Grilled Cheese Heaven, and others.