Opening a restaurant in Vancouver has always been a risky — and expensive — endeavour.
Even long before pandemic shutdowns, supply chain problems, labour shortages, and skyrocketing inflation started dominating the headlines, more than half of all new eateries in Vancouver shut down within their first year. Club Kitchen aims to drastically improve those odds.
This new concept is all about minimizing both risk and cost for restaurateurs. Club Kitchen is setting up 13 fully equipped, chef-designed private kitchens in a single location at 988 Expo Boulevard.
The individual kitchens range in size from 200 to 350 square feet.
“Each one of these kitchen units is its own independent kitchen operation. It just happens to be part of Club Kitchen,” JJ Fraser told Daily Hive.
Fraser spent most of the last two decades working as a chef for restos such as Earls, Bistro Verde in Nordstrom, and Craft Beer Market, before signing on as operations manager for Club Kitchen last year.
“There are lots of people that are interested, and asking questions, trying to really understand it, because it’s not anything that really has existed in this market before,” he said.
Any restaurateur who joins can see their takeout/delivery business up and running within a week or two, instead of the months or years normally required.
Permits and insurance are already in place, as are arrangements for preferred pricing on janitorial services, security, equipment repair, and more. Partnerships with Uber Eats, DoorDash and SkipTheDishes are already established.
Restaurateurs can also leverage group purchasing power with suppliers such as Sysco, Gordon Food Services, and Foodbuy Canada.
Club Kitchen takes care of logistical issues such as handing off food to customers and delivery drivers, leaving restaurateurs free to focus on preparing meals. And lower overhead costs mean more money is available to compensate staff fairly, which is key in an industry that has been struggling to fill vacancies.
“We’re creating a space where the cost of entry versus opening your own restaurant in downtown Vancouver is a fraction,” Fraser said. The capital investment drops to $50,000, instead of the $1 million (or more) typically required.
“You’re paying one-thirteenth of all of the operational costs,” he explained. “Instead of hiring a janitor, you’re hiring one-thirteenth of a janitor.”
He continued, “I think the biggest win for this concept is you don’t need a team of servers and a bartender and a front-of-house manager. You just need two or three cooks, and the Club Kitchen staff takes care of the rest.”
And this hub isn’t just for brand-new businesses. There’s a place for existing restaurants, too.
“This may be attractive for someone who wants to just test out a concept, [it] may be attractive for an existing brand that has found over the course of the last couple of years that their takeout business has really grown, but now it’s impacting their in-dining experience,” Fraser explained. “And so they would be able to shift all of their takeout business to a centralized location that has the ability to capture hundreds of thousands of potential customers.”
Club Kitchen’s Yaletown location was carefully chosen to be as central as possible for both walk-in customers and delivery drivers. More than 100,000 potential customers live within a 10-minute drive of the spot on Expo Boulevard, while 10,000 are within a 10-minute walk.
“This is not a ghost kitchen. We’re not a dark kitchen. We’re not trying to shield that this is all happening in one spot,” Fraser said. “We want to be a hub. We want to be part of the community.”
And Club Kitchen already has plans to grow. The team is looking at possible locations in Toronto and considering opening a second spot in Greater Vancouver. Fraser noted that established restaurant brands wanting to expand into other cities or provinces could use Club Kitchen as a low-risk, low-cost trial.
“What a great way to expand with a small footprint, small overhead, small start-up costs, with a perfected menu that you can just pop into whatever location you go to,” he said.
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Also lending behind-the-scenes experience is Hugh Carbery, who has worked as a chef for Vancouver eateries such as Craft Beer Market and Autostrada.
Backing Club Kitchen is Terry Hui, CEO of Concord Pacific. “I am pleased to invest in this idea with a team of veteran food industry professionals,” he said in a statement. “It’s a creative use of real estate and tech. It would certainly reduce barriers to entry for new food entrepreneurs and let them focus on their food concepts.”
Club Kitchen plans to open its doors to the public in autumn 2022.