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Here’s Why a Lot of Delivery Food Isn’t Coming From Actual Restaurants

The incubators are like WeWork for the restaurant industry

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Kitchen United
Kitchen United official photo
Kitchen United
Mona Holmes is a reporter for Eater Los Angeles and a regular contributor to KCRW radio. She has covered restaurants, dining, and food culture since 2016. In 2022, the James Beard Foundation nominated her for a Jonathan Gold Local Voice Award.

When higher demand for home dining meets increased competition among food delivery apps, the result is something called a cloud kitchen. Usually in a less expensive part of town, cloud kitchens are groups of centralized commercial restaurant spaces dedicated to delivery-only services or catering. The trend isn’t new, but the model is gaining traction with Pasadena-based Kitchen United’s opening this week. The new space hosts 15 fully-equipped kitchens opened yesterday with some recognizable tenants, including Neal Fraser’s Fritzi Coop, and Barney’s Gourmet Burgers.

With 12,000 square feet of kitchen space, infrastructure, and back of the house storage facilities, Kitchen United wants to help restaurants keep up with increased delivery demands. Mama Musubi, vegan newcomer The Pizza Plant, and Canter’s Deli scored kitchen spaces, and all businesses will use Ordermark, a delivery order ticket management system that current Canter’s Deli owner Alex Canter created.

The move appears similar to chef Eric Greenspan’s recent business shift. In 2017, Greenspan closed both Maré locations before opening a small commercial kitchen in Cloud Kitchens. The chef adapted a delivery-only setup for his Asian-Mexican restaurant Chino, Brekkie Breakfast Burritos, and breakfast sandwich kitchen The B.E.C.

Cloud Kitchens opened in 2016 on a quiet stretch of Washington Boulevard, with restaurants like Everytable, and Big Ants BBQ preparing food. Just like Kitchen United, space rental is only part of the deal, and the place provides support with marketing and overall workflow. Even though these kitchens are mainly for fulfilling delivery orders, regular diners can also go and pick up their own to-go orders from these satellite restaurants.

The timing is key. Consider the massive expansion of delivery apps like Postmates or Uber Eats with a high demands for home delivery. Actual dine-in restaurants are taking extra measures to meet the demand, and sometimes fail. Then take California’s minimum wage increase and combine increased operational costs, and cloud kitchens will continue to expand to meet the demand. Kitchen United plans to open a second Southern California location by the end of 2018 and nationwide in the coming year.


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