Inside Epic Kitchens, a quick and relaxed ghost / hybrid kitchen
Epic Kitchens got its start as a traditional ghost kitchen operator. He rented five bays at a CloudKitchens facility near downtown Chicago and used the space to operate up to 14 restaurant concepts for delivery only.
Her experience in what she calls her “R&D” kitchen has helped influence the development of her new outlet, which looks much more like a traditional restaurant.
Epic No. 2 opened its doors a month ago, in a corner of Chicago’s bustling Lakeview neighborhood. It has a bright and welcoming storefront, dining area, and a pickup counter that could potentially double as a bar.
It is also home to four brands – BurgerFi, 800 Degrees Pizza, Pokeworks and Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken – and plans to add up to three more to the 2,250 square foot space, all of which operate as a licensee. Customers can order just about anywhere except at the counter: through Epic’s app, in-store auto-order kiosks, or through third-party delivery sites.
Epic’s decision to pursue the more hybrid model was based on two factors.
First of all, marketing restaurants without any customer presence, as in its first ghost kitchen, is a challenge.
“The battle to develop digital sales can be very costly,” Epic co-founder and CEO Murad Karimi told Restaurant Business during a restaurant tour on Wednesday. A physical location, especially an eye-catching one, helps build brand awareness in a way that traditional ghost cuisine cannot, he said. And Epic has seen plenty of opportunities to open these types of stores amid a sea of vacant restaurants caused by the pandemic.
The Lakeview restaurant was once occupied by Cafe L’Appetito, a small Italian chain that closed in January 2020, before COVID-19 hit.
Second, Epic believed that offering ordering channels in addition to delivery would be more cost effective. This is why it offers a few tables and counters as well as kiosks for walk-in customers.
“The on-site dinner cannot be ignored,” Karimi said.
The CEO is well versed in restaurant operations: he is also co-founder and CEO of Mosaic Management, a franchisee of Arby’s and Moe’s Southwest Grill. Running these restaurants has given him a “front row seat” in the direction the industry is taking, he said, of omnichannel, multi-brand restaurants built around operational efficiency. Epic is his riff on this trend.
Although it may look like an ordinary restaurant from the outside, it was designed with the outside in mind. There’s a separate entrance and a pickup counter for delivery orders, and Epic is in the process of reserving parking spaces up front for drivers. Karimi said he expects delivery to account for 50% of all orders once his relationships with third parties intensify.
At the back of the house, each brand has its own 750 square foot kitchen space. At least one staff member is responsible for each brand, although during peak periods there may be three or four people for a single concept.
The kitchens are much smaller than would be normal for every brand, a setup that Karimi says was perfected during Epic’s first ghost kitchen. The Pokeworks area, for example, is a 60 square foot closet. It’s much smaller than the typical Pokeworks kitchens in its 1,250 square foot restaurants, but it’s still capable of accommodating 90% of the chain’s menu.
There is as much technology in the back of the house as in the front. Epic emphasizes cutting-edge kitchen equipment to streamline operations and, for future partnerships, it targets brands that have automation built into their business models, Karimi said, though he declined. to share which brands it was.
He was also hesitant to reveal the expected unit volume of the store, or which of the four brands was the most popular. But in general, he said, Epic’s most profitable brands are the ones with the most efficient working models. High-tech equipment is one of them.
And the company is just getting started: it plans to open five more stores in Chicago over the next 12 months, as well as another location with CloudKitchens.
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