Ghost kitchens: ‘dark kitchens’ grow with food delivery in BH

Spaces are used for restaurants only to prepare dishes and launch deliveries, without receiving the public, and companies that rent these places are strengthened in the pandemic.

The tables for the customers, the waiters, the decoration and the service counter leave, and only the ovens, the cooks and, of course, the food are left: this is the recipe for the operation of the “dark kitchens”, or ghost kitchens, establishments where restaurants just cook and fire orders for delivery, without receiving customers on site. Often looking for addresses without even identification on the door, they go unnoticed in the city, but they are growing, according to the Minas Gerais branch of the Brazilian Association of Bars and Restaurants (Abrasel), and they are here to stay — despite the reopening of restaurants to the public. has decreased the potency of delivery.

The model gained momentum with the pandemic, with the spread of delivery, at the same time that restaurants were forced to close their doors for months. In the wake of the movement, companies that rent “dark kitchens” to restaurants have consolidated in Belo Horizonte. They work like commercial office buildings, but instead of offices, they rent kitchens, which can be individual, for just one restaurant, or shared. In addition, some of them help with delivery logistics and provide their own couriers, for example, as well as restrooms and areas for app motoboys to charge their cell phones.

Inaugurated about a year ago, Órion Cloud Kitchens currently houses around 20 companies in a space in the Carmo neighborhood, in the Center-South region of BH. The place became the home of both companies that were born with a vocation only for delivery and restaurants that saw an increase in the number of deliveries and needed to expand operations without bearing the costs of a new unit. The restaurants pay a rent to use the kitchens and also have the company’s delivery management. “Today, we have software that manages the integration with delivery applications. The order arrives inside the kitchen of each restaurant, we pick it up and send it to the delivery person. The restaurant only needs to cook”, describes the commercial director of Órion, Ivon Mascarenhas.

Founded in 2018 in the Caiçara neighborhood, in the Northwest region, another kitchen rental company, Smart Kitchens, gained a new unit in Barro Preto, in the Center-South region and expanded to Campinas, Fortaleza and São Paulo, which today is its largest Marketplace. “In mid-2021, we had 100% occupancy in both BH units, but with the end of the lockdown, the demand for delivery has decreased and today we are 80% occupancy in Barro Preto and 60% in Caiçara. But we have expansion plans for the Santa Lúcia and Belvedere regions, and for Cidade Nova”, details the founding partner of the company Gustavo Nogueira.

In addition to the two companies, BH has a third ghost kitchen rental company, Kitchen Central, a brand that emerged from CloudKitchens, a company owned by former Uber CEO and Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick, with international operations.

Owner of the American Bulls hamburger shop, which started in a garage in 2016, Danilo Augusto migrated to a rented ghost kitchen in 2020, shortly before the pandemic was decreed. Delivery increased by 60% during the health crisis and, although it has declined since then, it is still higher than before the pandemic period, says the businessman.

“The first advantage of renting is the implementation, which is very fast. As the space is ready, just bring the kitchen equipment and start selling, and you also have no personalization costs, because the store doesn’t need to be beautiful for the customer”, he details. Even with the success of the delivery, this year he began to fulfill a dream – and an insistent request from customers – and opened a physical store in the Pampulha region. “We have always gone online and we have excellent delivery by delivery. But the freshly produced hamburger is tastier. People want to get out of the house”, he points out.

‘Dark kitchens’ can be an economy alternative for restaurants

For some businesses, rented “dark kitchens” are a cost-saving alternative, as they offer the basic structure of a kitchen without additional costs such as waiters and bureaucracy to comply with Health Surveillance requirements, which are the responsibility of the tenants. But the model does not always pay off financially, warns the president of Abrasel-MG, Matheus Daniel, who maintain their own ghost kitchen for their restaurant.

“It’s worth it for the rest if they don’t just deliver through apps, because the rate they pay, in this case, is around 27% of orders. There, the expense with the payroll at the restaurant is lower. The great advantage of delivery is that you don’t need to be in such a valued place, because it’s your delivery radius that matters”, he says.

For entrepreneur and chef Carolina Fadel, owner of Matula Cozinha, renting a space was the most economical option, as she explains: “With a discount, I pay R$2,660 in rent for the kitchen. The cost is not cheap, but it is good value for money, because we gained the system for the logistics of deliveries, for example, which is expensive on the outside. At the end of the day, it is close to what I would pay for rent in the region where I am, in Carmo”. Its long-term goal is to work only with frozen lunchboxes, but to keep the company running, it now also serves lunches for delivery.

“Dark Stores”

Today, Orion Cloud Kitchens invests, in addition to the “dark kitchens”, in the “dark stores”, rental spaces for stores in different segments to allocate their stocks. The space already stocks and handles frozen food delivery logistics, for example, and also focuses on the fashion market, to stock clothes for delivery.

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