Meredith Sandland, who has served as chief operating officer of the culinary-on-demand Kitchen United for the past year, says she was drawn to the startup after seeing the growth in off-premise needs during her tenure with Taco Bell.
Sandland, during a presentation last month at the RestaurantSpaces conference, said she noticed a deepening demand for off-premise food among Taco Bell customers, and the Pasadena, Calif.-based Kitchen United provided an alternative for restaurant brands to get closer to consumers.
Sandland served as chief development officer of Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell, the division of Yum! Brands Inc., from 2013 to 2017 and was named COO of Kitchen United last March.
The developer of shared commercial kitchens was spun out of Cali Group, the parent to Cali Burger and burger-flipping robot Flippy. Kitchen United opened its first facility early last year in Pasadena and recently opened another in Chicago.
The Pasadena location offers 12,000 square feet of equipped kitchen space and includes integrated point of sale system, back of house automation and ordering software that accommodates various delivery platforms.
Sandland elaborated on off-premise trends and Kitchen United’s growth plans in a recent email interview with Nation’s Restaurant News.
How can restaurant brands best use facilities like Kitchen United?
Restaurant brands that are forward-thinking in how they best serve and grow their off-premise business are the ones that will use Kitchen United most effectively. Our entire mission is to help restaurant brands bring their food closer to the consumer. If the food is closer, the meal will turn out better for off-premise consumption, particularly for delivery.
What are the benefits for the brands?
We are speaking with some great brands that understand the benefit of taking delivery outside their four walls — whether that is for offloading the operational challenges, to enter a new neighborhood, to expand new concepts or to enter a new market altogether at a fraction of the cost.
How has your model adapted?
Pasadena has been open and serving the local community since last spring, with some great brands, including Canter’s Deli, Mama Musubi, Grilled Cheese Heaven and some other California favorites. We have expanded our capacity in Pasadena to enable some additional brands to join us here soon as well.
What is your expansion strategy?
Our model is built to scale, and we have created a simplified build-out process, allowing us to move into a new market and a new kitchen center very efficiently. We are a data-driven concept, and each location will be adapted to its local market to reflect local consumer demand, local mix of takeout, catering and delivery, and local delivery modes.
Where will you be going next? And how many restaurant operators can each accommodate?
We have announced new locations for Atlanta, Columbus [Ohio], Austin [Texas] and Scottsdale [Ariz.], and have several more markets on the horizon. For those four markets specifically, we are actively meeting with restaurants as we quickly work through our build-out process. We expect to have 15 kitchen centers opened by year’s end, with each housing 10 to 20 restaurant partners that will serve the local community.
What advice to you have for brand executives as they seek to get closer to their customer?
If a brand is actively seeking ways to bring their food closer to their customer, they are already asking the right question. It is quickly becoming a necessity as trends show us the consumer is seeking convenience. The growth in off-premise is increasing rapidly. Consumer demand — and in many cases the expectation — for delivery is here to stay. My advice would be to look at your business and truly understand what your consumer is looking for and where. And if that answer is more off-premise, figure out how to meet that guest where they are.
How has your background at Taco Bell influenced how you approach your role at Kitchen United?
My time at Taco Bell was a fantastic learning experience and taught me a tremendous amount about scaling a business without compromising the identity of the brand. We have aggressive expansion goals at Kitchen United so that experience translates very directly to my role today. As we grow, we will maintain our commitment to serve as partners to our restaurant operator tenants. If they succeed, we will succeed, so it is our responsibility to support them as best we can.
What’s the biggest thing on the horizon?
Delivery is all about bringing food closer to consumers, and we see that need only ramping up more aggressively.
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