Trendy ghost kitchen movement gives food startups strong beginnings

Not your ordinary kitchen: One of three REEF Wendy’s trucks is parked at 1000 5 Ave. S.W. in Calgary on Fri, Jan. 20, 2023. REEF Kitchens opened a Wendy’s “For Delivery Only” franchise in May 2022. (Photo by Abby Panes/The Press)

Ghost kitchens are a growing trend in the food industry, and they’re catching on in Calgary.

 “[A ghost kitchen] is a kitchen, which is virtually and only visible on your screens,” said Karan Kannure, area leader of REEF Kitchens and REEF Technology in Calgary. “These kitchens do not actually exist. There’s no front of the house, and there’s no dine-in.”

The main goal of ghost kitchens is the fast movement of food.

“REEF came up with the concept of these ghost kitchens where they could be deployed in parking lots. And the idea behind having these in the parking lots was to get closer to the neighbourhood,” said Kannure.

REEF then uses delivery platforms to get orders into the hands of customers.

“Where we are virtually visible is SkipTheDishes, UberEats and DoorDash here in Canada,” he said.

Ghost kitchens benefit start-ups that cannot afford thousands of dollars to invest in a brick-and-mortar outlet. The concept also facilitates faster expansion.

“If you were to go through a brick-and-mortar expansion—even to set up one location—it would take you a year or a couple of years easily,” Kannure said.

REEF Kitchens have been in the market since 2019. In May 2022, they partnered with Wendy’s and launched three locations in under a year.

While some brands found success in the ghost kitchen movement, others were not as successful.

“We have seen some brands come and go also. Some brands did not find success—we could not do justice for them with regards to expansion into the country or into the markets,” said Kannure.

However, REEF has an impressive roster of brands that have benefitted from the concept.

“If we start a brand in one city and it is doing really well, REEF on its own will take it to another city in the same province and then in a neighbouring province,” said Kannure. “And if all the boxes are checked, then we take it to other provinces in other parts of the country.”

While REEF has leveraged the ghost kitchen method to give brands a start in the food industry, other startups have also benefited from the movement.

“During the pandemic, PAO YYC came about because we cannot do any gatherings and cater large events. I have a kitchen, but I cannot use it for those reasons. That’s why we turned it into a ghost kitchen,” said John Nidua, former executive chef of Residence Inn by Marriott Calgary and owner of Tycoon Catering and PAO YYC.

But unlike REEF Kitchens, which has a full team, Nidua only had himself and his wife to post on social media, take orders through their website and deliver them.

“I did not sign up for DoorDash or SkipTheDishes, because I cannot afford them, as I sell my products at a reasonable price,” Nidua said.

PAO YYC operates out of a full-on commercial kitchen, complete with a walk-in fridge, fryer, etc.

“Everything—you name it—and a bigger space. It’s just our market is small,” said Nidua.

Nidua found ways to keep overhead costs low by operating as a ghost kitchen.

“The area where we live was 50-plus living,” he said. “In return for renting the place, I do their events, and they give me a good deal on the lease.”

Through the ghost kitchen movement, PAO YYC was able to reach a thousand followers on social media and get featured on Avenue Calgary and CBC.

We want to identify these local heroes and get them on board because both REEF and the small businesses benefit out of this. – Karan Kannure

REEF continues to be open to working with food startups.

“We are all game for local heroes — for these small businesses — because every city has that character and has those famous joints. We want to identify these local heroes and get them on board, even for ice cream or wings or even bubble tea, because both REEF and the small businesses benefit out of this,” Kannure said.

It all boils down to being a good fit.

 “All we need is to agree on terms, and we need to see if your product makes sense to our concept or to the equipment we have inside our vessel,” he said. “It really depends upon how we can execute and incorporate it into our concept.”




About Abby Panes 3 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Abby Panes is working as a writer for The Press in 2023.