The Philadelphia-based HipCityVeg chain is planning on doubling in size from seven units to 15 by February 2022, the company said Wednesday. The expansion will include the plant-based chain’s first unit in New York City, as well as ghost kitchens.
“This past year we’ve really seen unprecedented interest and investment in plant-based brands across the board, especially with the continuing crushing news about the climate, which brings even more urgency [to eating plant-based],” said HipCityVeg CEO Nicole Marquis. “It's so important for all of our futures to have more affordable, easy and delicious ways to do that. Plant based is really the future, now's the moment.”
Two of the eight units planned will be ghost kitchens. These delivery-only locations are being dubbed “Go Kitchens” by HipCityVeg and will serve as a way for the company to serve customers “where they are now,” according to Marquis.
Both Go Kitchens will open in New York City in the next eight months, while three new brick-and-mortar units are planned for Philadelphia, where the company operates five locations currently. Two more brick-and-mortar units are scheduled to open in D.C. where the brand already has two units.
“We don't want to lose the in-person experience that makes restaurants destinations and gathering places, so we are taking that hybrid approach to growth,” Marquis, left, told Restaurant Hospitality.
The plan for future expansion into new markets will follow New York City’s example, with one brick-and-mortar location and several neighboring Go Kitchens for the time being.
“We think [this model is] cutting edge because it allows us to expand into new markets and de-risk a bit because of lower capital to expand that way,” said Marquis. “[We can] reach customers where they are, which is in their homes, working from home, and I think that trend is here to stay for a while.”
Marquis said there are no immediate plans to franchise, despite numerous offers. All locations for the moment will be company owned.
In April, HipCityVeg announced it would increase the minimum hourly wages to $15 per hour across all units. And, according to Marquis, that will be a key pillar of the company’s expansion as it recruits workers, including for delivery-only kitchens. The average wage for restaurant workers is about $18 an hour at HipCityVeg, according to the company.
“We wanted our employees to know that we can offer careers not just jobs — in an industry and for a company that's on the cutting edge,” said Marquis. “And we've seen a really good response from it.”
Benefits like free meals, paid time off, health and dental benefits were also part of the move that impacted about 75% of the company’s existing workers in Philadelphia, where the current minimum wage is $7.25. The minimum wage was already $15 per hour in D.C.
“We always say we have to invest in our greatest assets, and that's it. The people make the business happen and happy employees make happy customers,” said Marquis.