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To test locations and expand fast, &pizza is deploying mobile kitchens

Just don't call them food trucks, ok?

Fast-casual brand &pizza instantly opened three new locations in the D.C. Metro area earlier this month. The restaurant chain is working with Zume, Inc. and using mobile kitchens to test new markets, create excitement around a yet-to-open location and operate a temporary restaurant at the Reach Festival held in the Kennedy Center. 

"Conventional restaurant growth is constrained by real estate availability, where the demand is and length of time it takes to develop,” said Andy Hooper, president, and COO of &pizza.

The mobile kitchens are "architected to be inherently flexible," he added. 

Washington, D.C.-based &pizza, an NRN Hot Concept winner this year, prides itself on its highly designed and tech-savvy approach to pizza, so the relationship with Silicon Valley-based Zume was a "perfect marriage," said Hooper. 

Zume first gained attention for their robot pizza operation. Now Zume, Inc. runs a few different offshoots including Zume Packaging, which launched a line of plant-based compostable packaging products earlier this year. The mobile kitchen is part of its Zume Forward efforts, which also include technology that helps restaurants predict demand.  

"Our technology is about serving brands, serving food professionals, restaurateurs, people who have a vision about hospitality," said Alex Garden, chairman, and CEO of Zume, Inc. "We're also helping them project that food closer to the customer, which means that we're creating better economics for the last mile delivery.”

As he sees it, mobile kitchens are a "truce" between customer demand for delivery and the restaurant brands that serve them. These kitchens allow restaurants to get closer to customers without the expense of opening new locations. The idea is for customers to order ahead or order onsite and pick up from these locations. Customers can also order delivery which the restaurant can fulfill itself or by working with outside delivery services. By operating closer to customer demand, a brand might be more able to do their own delivery, said Garden. Although these mobile kitchens can also serve as a pickup point for delivery couriers with the added benefit of not crowding a brick-and-mortar location.

These kitchens can be outfitted to a restaurant's culinary specifications and designed with a brand's look and logo. And Hooper notes that his trucks can pop out pizzas at nearly the same speed as his restaurants —"100 pies an hour coming out of the truck," he said. 

But, these aren't food trucks. 

There are a few key differences between these mobile kitchens and food carts that both Zume and &pizza consider significant. These mobile kitchens are larger with space to customized kitchen equipment and add operational technology. Diners are not served directly from the truck, and the vehicles operate on a mobile catering license. Zume will assist restaurants with licensing. Customers can order by kiosk or app, and Zume can facilitate obtaining necessary hardware and software. 

Zume's technology can also help restaurants discover where and when demand is. For example, if lunch traffic is high in one part of town and dinner traffic in another, the mobile kitchen can move throughout the day. 

"We come to them with hardware solutions, software solutions, AI, logistics, positioning, inventory prediction, waste management and financing," said Garden. "We give them solutions to project their brand out into the market in a way that works with last-mile delivery, takes the pressure off their brick-and-mortar restaurants and actually increases their cash flow."

Contact Gloria at [email protected]

Find her on Twitter: @GloriaDawson

TAGS: Trends
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