At first glance, Niko’s Grill (formerly located on Jasper Avenue) could have been mistaken for any street-meat hangout. The fridges were stocked with plenty of pop and the walls were decked with sports-related quotes. All that was missing was an Oilers poster. Compared to its former lavish and over-the-top website, the real Niko’s was unsuspecting — until you saw the kitchen.
In the kitchen, there was one unlikely addition: A wall of tablets, taking online orders for different restaurants with names like Pepe’s Perogies, Churro Burger, Cinnabon, Philly Fred or Demi’s Poutines, going through different delivery options like Uber, SkipTheDishes, Foodora and DoorDash. This past fall, Niko’s Grill permanently closed — but the other chains remained. All of these varied dishes are prepared in the same kitchen.
In the age of minimalism, the restaurant business is getting a virtual shakeup. As on-demand food delivery services pick up steam across Canada, so do these “ghost kitchens,” allowing restaurants to forgo storefronts and work out of a single shared space.
There is only one phone number to call, and nowhere to leave a Yelp review. Here, menus are optimized so food that would otherwise be wasted in a traditional kitchen can be used to fulfill an order. Here, multi-tasking is king.
Rishi Mittal works as an area developer for Jackpot Brandz, a Toronto-based company operating ghost kitchens all across the Prairies. As Jackpot looks to expand across the country, part of Mittal’s job involves educating people on what to expect.
“The main thing is people can’t comprehend how you can have multiple brands [and] cuisines coming out of one kitchen.” Mittal says. “People have a general idea of the traditional restaurant concept, ‘Like I need Italian, I’m going to go to an Italian restaurant.’ But what we’re trying to tell people is – why do you have to jump around?”
Someone ordering takeout from Churro Burger might not immediately realize it was created in the same space as Pepe’s Perogies. But Mittal expects that to change as Jackpot aims to bring a bevy of national and international brands on board, taking advantage of a distribution framework already set in place.
“It’s great for the consumer, because they’re going to have a lot of variety, a lot of choice and get some brands that they don’t have access to otherwise.” Mittal says.
Sam Moukhaiber has been working to bring back the Rose Bowl for several years — yes, that Rose Bowl. When his downtown pub, BLVD, was sidelined due to a costly series of floods and drainage issues due to a water main break, Moukhaiber turned to an unlikely idea to help bring back the beloved pizza institution. He utilized a new restaurant platform and a virtual kitchen. He brought back items from former sister restaurants like BLVD and Crepeworks into the mix to expand the restaurant’s reach.
“Most restaurants are either going one way or another,” Moukhaiber says. “[So] why not combine the two together… have a ghost kitchen and restaurant running out of the same platform?”
With a tentative launch date of March 2020, Moukhaiber is quick to assure these changes are not entirely about embracing change for change’s sake, but about finding the next way to get ahead. “It’s all about evolution. We’re becoming more digitized and anybody who wants to sit there and say that it’s not happening needs to look at what a cell phone looked like, almost 10 years ago,” he says. “Restaurants are our bloodline. You can’t get rid of restaurants. But new platforms have to be integrated with original platforms.”