Fabio Viviani, a Top Chef alumni and multiconcept operator through his Fabio Viviani Hospitality Group, has become a partner in a virtual brand developer called FoodHaul that is seeking to expand by rolling out its chef-driven concepts into existing, underutilized kitchens.
FoodHaul, based in Chicago and founded by veteran restaurateur Bill Stavrou in 2019, works with a handful of celebrity chefs to develop concepts that can be licensed by kitchen operators — current licensees include restaurants, caterers, hotel foodservice venues and others — as delivery- and pickup-only brands. Licensees keep 65% of each sale, and Stavrou estimates that 25-35% of the revenue falls to the bottom line after food and labor costs
Viviani launched two brands with FoodHaul: Toscana by Fabio Viviani, which includes some of the most popular pasta dishes adapted from his restaurants, such as Grandma Viviani's Meatballs and Rigatoni, Roasted Lemon Chicken Piccata, and Aged Parmesan Creamed Spinach; and Burgers ’n Witches, which offers elevated burgers and sides and has been folded into another of FoodHaul's virtual brands.
Viviani recently spoke with RH about how he became a believer in virtual brands as a way to reach more customers and grow his business. Following is an edited version of his story, as told to RH.
One of the founders of FoodHaul, Bill Stavrou, and some of the members, are friends of mine. Bill has a long history of successful restaurant operations.
The proof of concept came with the lockdowns, which showed the need for a better way to order food at home, and to please everybody’s palate. With FoodHaul, customers have the ability to choose whatever they like and get it all delivered at the same time.
This is scalable, and it uses excess capacity that everybody in the industry has, me included, although my restaurants are very busy. A lot of restaurants have slow days, or slow times of day, and this can add additional revenues at virtually no additional cost.
This is a concept that we entrust to good kitchen operators. We vet them very carefully — we have a lot of requests, and we probably execute half of those. We want to make sure that the operators are capable operators, and not just operators that want or need the extra revenues.
We create dishes that are easy to execute — whether it is a wings concept with several different sauces, or a BBQ concept, or an Italian concept. We also provide some partially prepared foods — a sauce, for example, that is prepared by our kitchen, so the work is less onerous for the kitchens that operate our brands.
You can’t put a menu out there as a virtual brand with 300 menu items. Our average menu has eight to 10 items, and we work with the operator to make sure that we have a symbiosis with what they are doing already and with what FoodHaul can bring to the table.
Some of the items we make in our restaurants are really only for our skilled chefs to be creating, so you can’t just copy and paste a bunch of restaurant items into a new concept. But the crowd favorites — the meatballs, the roasted chicken, the marsala, the picata, the chicken Romano, the salad, the Brussels sprouts, the roasted potatoes — the dishes that are the most delicious and easy to execute are the ones we bring outside of our own kitchen.
For us, the ability to sustain quality is paramount. There are a lot of other companies working in our genre, but there’s not a lot of human interaction with the mother ship. We are hands-on; we have chefs in the kitchen doing training. We are not just a tech company that had an idea, handing you a bunch recipes and wishing you good luck. We are a hospitality business.
We are a customer-centric, quality-first brand that is planning to find capable and qualified operators that will benefit from it. We have tested every single brand in our own restaurants first, and then we roll it out, and promote it. You don’t even have to tell anybody that you also supply delivery of a great wing concept. You don’t have to put a sign on the door that you are also selling amazing barbecue, because we don’t want to take away from the identity of your main restaurants.
When people pull up outside your restaurant they might not even know you offer delivery of these other concepts, but when people go online and search for barbecue or wings, for example, and you are the closest in the area, you are the one that delivers it to them.
We believe this is not just a patch; it’s a solution to a problem that’s not just from the pandemic, but also from the fierce competition from other restaurants out there. We are planning to be around for a very long time. We are not planning to be a flash in the pan.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to note that Burgers 'n Witches has been folded into another FoodHaul brand.