Cali BBQ founder Shawn Walchef isn’t shy when it comes to vocalizing his dreams.
“My goal is to become the Amazon Prime of barbecue for San Diego,” Cali BBQ Media Founder Shawn Walchef shares about his Ghost Kitchens growth plan.
“Alexa, play Global Takeover…”
Yes, the man behind Cali BBQ and Cali BBQ Media absolutely means what he just said. However, while the restaurant company has had a brick and mortar location in Spring Valley since 2008, it wasn’t until 2020 when disaster struck his industry that the restaurant aggressively embarked on expanding.
“We never opened up another location until the pandemic,” Shawn states. “We expanded to our first ghost kitchen location in downtown San Diego to a place called the Barrio Food Hub.”
A ghost kitchen?
For a man unafraid to compete with Jeff Bezos or expand his business during a pandemic, the term ‘ghost kitchen’ likely seems on brand for such spooky confidence. However, Shawn has not been possessed by a poltergeist nor is living in another dimension.
LISTEN TO OUR 3-PART PODCAST SERIES ON GHOST KITCHENS
- Guide to Opening a Virtual Ghost Kitchen | Part 1: The New Digital Economy
- Guide to Opening a Virtual Ghost Kitchen | Part 2: Building Key Relationships
- Guide to Opening a Virtual Ghost Kitchen | Part 3: Breaking Down Costs
Rather, Shawn Walchef — like many other restaurant entrepreneurs in 2021 — has smartened up and embarked on the future of food as seen by the events and effects of 2020.
What is a Ghost Kitchen? —
Essentially, a ghost kitchen is a rented warehouse or kitchen space that allows companies to sell food digitally through delivery services. These companies can include existing brands that want to further their reach without opening another brick and mortar or entirely virtual brands attempting to enter the market.
“Ghost kitchens present an incredible opportunity to add another location at a reduced cost,” says Shawn. “This allows us to get into two hundred square feet with only a 12-month commitment. It’s a really exciting time.”
How To Open a Virtual Kitchen —
Entrepreneurs like Shawn aren’t the only ones excited about ghost kitchens.
Nili Poynter, co-founder and president of ChefReady, realized exactly this gap in the market when she started her virtual kitchen company in 2019.
“Labor costs were rising, and rent was rising,” recalls Nili about pre-pandemic times during a Clubhouse conversation in our Digital Hospitality Club.
“Restaurants were closing down one by one. Seeing the aftermath of all of this, we started to do some research into ghost kitchens. We wanted to create a company that offered the convenience of what a ghost kitchen offered, but one that truly had greater efficiency.”
Check out the entire Clubhouse Ghost Kitchen series on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMctYe4sqv9jxfmWmp0C2sw
For long time owners and operators, greater efficiency is music to their ears.
The lean business model provided by ghost kitchens not only helps to alleviate the razor thin margins associated with full-service restaurants, they operate on the strengths of the digital world we now live in.
“Data collecting is extremely important,” notes Nili Poynter. “And it is something that these guys in the kitchens need in order to succeed.”
Data is foundational in industry and it now appears that food is not the exception but perhaps even the rule.
While Shawn may be set on competing with Jeff Bezos, it’s clear the major players in the tech space are already looking into ghost kitchens as a rapidly growing cash cow.
“Look at the statistics and look at the companies that are getting involved in the ghost kitchen space,” Shawn Walchef said. “When you look at Amazon purchasing a portion of a company out of the U.K., when you look at former Uber executive, Travis Kalanick, as part of Cloud Kitchen. When you know that Google is backing a Kitchens United, it’s all numbers based. We’re all on our phones more and it’s the attention economy.”
“They tell you location, location, location and now it’s digital, digital, digital.”
For an owner that survived the pandemic pressures of closing in Spring Valley, CA, Shawn knows better than most that digital real estate is the new real estate.
However, even for those owners and operators playing in the full-service restaurant space, owning your name and your game in the digital world will do you favors when it comes to securing a spot in the physical realm.
“Landlords have in this time gotten more savvy,” notes Kyle Inserra, host of the National Restaurant Owners Podcast. “They are looking at you on social media first. They’re looking at you to see what you’ve done, who you are, what your brand is all about, and to see if you’d be a good fit for them.”
Having a strong presence on social media is important for anyone looking to lease a physical space for a restaurant or a ghost kitchen.
Even if you are operating a ghost kitchen with no physical footprint, it’s important that your digital footprint sells you and the story of your brand.
“This isn’t just a restaurant with no dining room,” points out Jensen Cummings, host of the Best Served Podcast. “It’s marketing, marketing, marketing.”
Smartphone Marketing is Cheap and Efficient —
In fact, thanks to the smartphone, marketing yourself and your company has never been easier.
In these times, it’s also never been cheaper and more efficient.
Through informal advertising and restaurants without dining rooms, the marketing power of social media and the business model allowed with ghost kitchens provide the opportunity to turn independents into power players.
“The future of food and the future of hospitality is in our hands,” closes Shawn. “And that’s through the smartphone.”
Yes, through smart phones and ghost kitchens, Shawn Walchef and other tech savvy food entrepreneurs have a chance to absolutely change the game.
Jeff Bezos, you’ve been warned.
Audio Guide To Ghost Kitchens
Part 1: The New Digital Economy
Part 2: Building Key Relationships
Part 3: Breaking Down Costs
Follow the Hosts —
➤ Jensen Cummings on Clubhouse:
➤ Kyle Inserra on Clubhouse:
➤ Shawn P. Walchef on Clubhouse: