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18 restaurants, 1 location: Take a look inside Moncton’s virtual kitchen | CBC News


No serving staff, no dining room and 18 different restaurants operating out of one kitchen — it’s known as a virtual kitchen.

The concept has popped up in other regions of Canada, but in New Brunswick, Taylor Wilson, co-owner East Coast Restaurants Group, said the idea of having multiple restaurants in one kitchen is a relatively new one.

Some restaurants have one or two additional menus operating out of their brick-and-mortars — a revenue builder without having to invest in additional staff or tables — and that’s exactly how Wilson got into the virtual kitchen game, too.

When the pandemic hit, Classic Burger, which Wilson also co-owns, had to close. So to help keep the business afloat, Take the Cake opened as a virtual kitchen, also known as a ghost kitchen.

A circular sign on a building that says East Coast ECRG Restaurants Group. Below it, it has a banner with tiny logos on it.
East Coast Restaurants Group began with 12 brands, but soon grew to be the 18 it is now. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

“It was no additional staff, no additional equipment, just bringing in the extra food and it worked really well. So from there, we kind of came up with the idea of a full virtual ghost kitchen.”

Paulette Cormier-MacBurnie, a professor in tourism and hospitality management at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, said she thinks virtual kitchens are a good way for restaurants to test new ideas and products without the added expense of opening a new brick-and-mortar.

She expects to see some continued demand for virtual kitchens.


No tables? No servers? No problem for this virtual kitchen

East Coast Restaurants Group opened in Moncton during the pandemic with 12 restaurants in a single kitchen. Now, it has grown to 18.

“Take-out and delivery has become something that is part of the regular lives of lots of people, and particularly our younger populations,” she said. 

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, people became very used to take-out and delivery and acquiring restaurant food in that way. And I think … some elements of that have continued on.”

East Coast Restaurants Group began with 12 brands, but soon grew to be the 18 it is now, including tacos, poutine, pizza, lobster, cake and more.

Day to day, Wilson said it can be “a little chaotic” and the kitchen crew is trained on all of the menus.

A person wearing a black chef's jacket and holding a take-out box filled with poutine
The menu for Paparazzi Poutine has 86 different poutine options. East Coast Restaurants staff have to learn that menu plus 17 others. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

“Paparazzi Poutine, we have 86 poutines. So that alone is a full restaurant menu. So then we kind of throw 17 more [menus] at them,” said Wilson.

Challenges with fully virtual operation

And while the idea comes with its benefits for the owners like less staff, no sit-in service and a lot of visibility on delivery apps — it also has its challenges, said Wilson, including technical issues with having 54 tablets and having to rely on delivery apps.

She said people will sometimes call and explain that their order was dropped off at the wrong location, but because the delivery was done through a third-party app, there’s no way for the virtual restaurant to know where it was dropped or where it was supposed to go.

Delivery apps also have high fees, said Wilson, with some taking up to 30 per cent of platform sales.

A pizza on a metal plate with a pizza cutter rolling through it.
Cut Throat Pizza is one of the 18 brands operating out of one building. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

“Which makes sense, it’s a lot of logistics involved in organizing drivers,” she said. 

“But in a restaurant … it’s already pretty tight margins. And when you have to give a third of that off the top right to these delivery apps, it can really be challenging for the kitchen.”

But the biggest challenge, said Wilson, is that in a traditional restaurant setting, the food passes through multiple checkpoints.

First, the kitchen sees the food plated, then the server, and then when the food goes to the table, a customer can see right away if everything is correct.

A man chopping tomatoes on a green chopping board
The food for the 14 savoury restaurants are prepped in the kitchen, while the four main sweet options are located in the front of house. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

But with a virtual restaurant, the food goes from the kitchen into the hands of a delivery driver where it could possibly get cold or tossed around. Or, if there was a mistake with the order, there’s no way to rectify it on the spot like with a sit-down restaurant, said Wilson.

When first starting, Wilson said the plan was to have one station in the kitchen designated for each restaurant. But now, there’s a lot of overlap between stations. Like how Cut Throat Pizza has a poutine pizza, creating some crossover between that and Paparazzi Poutine. 

Cross contamination

For the most part, savoury foods are prepped in the back, while the four main sweet shops are grouped together in the front. 

But one restaurant is completely separate from the others.

A freezer filled with eight large tubs of ice cream
The four sweet shops at East Coast Restaurants Group are concentrated in the front of the building. These include milkshakes and hard ice cream from Shaky-Breaky Milkshake Shoppe. (Hannah Rudderham/CBC)

The Flour-less Pot was added recently and every item on the menu is gluten-free.

The idea was inspired by Wilson’s best friend with Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes a bodily reaction to eating gluten, who said she could never eat popular breaded foods like onion rings or fried chicken.

But because the 17 other menus have gluten items, Wilson said the kitchen has a station completely dedicated to gluten-free food, dedicated fryers and a designated staff member who works only with gluten-free food that day.

Although the business has added many new concepts since opening, Wilson said they are going to hold off on adding any more for a little while.

The future

But she does have some new ideas for the future of the business.

Currently on the kitchen’s website, people can order from all the restaurants at the same time.

12 tablets hanging on a wall with all of them connected to a power source below them
The business has 54 tablets around the building for the three different delivery streams, so technical issues can be a challenge. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

“Even with just me and my partner, like trying to figure out one thing we both want to eat is so hard,” she said. “So if you can just go to one place, get 18 different … food options, it’s really helpful.”

But on delivery apps, all of the restaurants are listed separately. While Wilson said this is good because the menus are not overwhelming to look at, she is hoping that the business can move away from delivery apps entirely one day. 

She hopes East Coast will one day have its own delivery system and drivers to increase accountability. 

She also sees the possibility of some of their recognizable brands becoming ghost kitchens for other brick-and-mortars.

Wilson thinks New Brunswickers are ready to embrace the idea of virtual kitchens.

“I think once people know more about it, they’ll be more open to it for sure.”


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