Photography: Unbound Productions
Grocery stores continue their slow but steady evolution from solely selling raw ingredients to being a one-stop shop for both fresh foods and pre-cooked, restaurant-quality meals.
Kitchen Hub, a two-year-old Toronto company that brings together “celebrated restaurants” using the increasingly popular ghost kitchen concept, has opened its fourth location, this time inside a Longo’s store in the city’s Liberty Village neighbourhood. It is being billed as the first ghost kitchen to open inside a Canadian grocery store.
The store-within-store concept features a full menu of items from the Thai restaurant PAI, as well as Montreal’s Mandy’s Gourmet Salads, the fast-growing fried chicken and burger joint Cabano’s Comfort Food, and the Mexican spot Tecolote.
Customers can mix-and-match items from any of the four restaurants, and can also add grab-and-go offerings from The Cheesecake Factory Bakery and Elle Dee Bakery, as well as ready-to-eat items from the Longo’s kitchen, including pizza, sushi, salads and whole roasted chickens. Longo’s and Kitchen Hub say it is the beginning of a longer-term relationship.
“Partnering with Kitchen Hub gives us a very unique opportunity to provide meal solutions, quality food options and convenience to our guests,” says Longo’s vice-president of merchandising, Joey Bernaudo. “We’re continually looking for ways to innovate and meet evolving shopping needs, and are proud to partner with companies that can help us do that.”
Longo’s operates 36 stores around Toronto and Hamilton, but Bernaudo says the Liberty Village location was selected for the Kitchen Hub debut because the neighbourhood’s residents are predisposed towards restaurant experiences and “eclectic” food options, “which showed us that our store location was a natural fit for Kitchen Hub.”
Bernaudo says Longo’s plans to test the concept and gather feedback from both guests and employees. “We can take those learnings and apply them to potential opportunities in the future,” he says.
He says that having Kitchen Hub operating from the Liberty Village locations provides customers with an abundance of high-quality, ready-to-eat meal options, “which we know the community is looking for.” The diversity of food items available at the store, he adds, means more choices and convenience for shoppers.
While the idea of ghost kitchens in grocery stores is still relatively new, the idea is being adopted by grocery retailers like Kroger in the United States. This year, the ghost kitchen company Kitchen United opened its 10th location inside a Ralph’s supermarket near the UCLA campus in Los Angeles, which was followed by the opening of additional locations inside Kroger stores in Houston and Dallas.
The two companies first announced their partnership last year, with Kroger’s group vice-president of fresh merchandising Dan De La Rosa saying at the time that its customers’ demand for fresh, on-demand meals “continues to accelerate.” The companies said that the off-premise restaurant kitchen would feature as many as six local, regional or national restaurant brands.
Kitchen United raised US$100 million in funding this year from a group of investors that included Kruger, Restaurant Brands International, and the convenience store operator Alimentation Coche-Tard, bringing its total funding to US$175 million.