Beyond Silicon Valley: Making cloud kitchens a reality in an old Pizza Hut in Boise

October 27, 2020

Photo by Alden Skeie on Unsplash

Food delivery services are now about as ubiquitous as can be, whether it is Doordash, Grubhub, Uber Eats, Deliveroo - there are lots of flashy apps that are happy to send their gig-economy drivers to deliver your food from a local restaurant.

Similar to Uber, Lyft and any number of copycats, there is seemingly no end of new entrants who can come in and compete for your delivery dollars. But as Netflix discovered when it comes to streaming, the real secret isn’t in the distribution, but rather it is in offering something unique that no one else has.

For Netflix, this meant moving from distributing other people’s content to producing their own original shows like “House of Cards” or “The Crown”. In food delivery, we might be finally starting to see this Netflix moment play out, but it isn’t happening in Silicon Valley, it is happening in Boise.

Enter Crave

Boise, Idaho based Crave Delivery launched publicly in May of 2020 summing up their concept as the combination of:

“the best of remote kitchens, proprietary technology interface, and employee delivery team.”

To be fair, none of these ideas are unique to Crave, including the idea of a remote or cloud kitchen - the food delivery world’s answer to Netflix’s “House of Cards.”

The idea has been around for a couple of years now with a lot of the press going to former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and his early investments in the space. The concept is basically that you can have a kitchen that only serves online delivery, with no option for dine-in, thus lowering overhead costs and making it easier to combine multiple concepts under one roof.

Although many of the large delivery services and large chains like Red Lobster and Starbucks are also experimenting with the concept of cloud kitchens, nobody is yet to pull it off in a big way.

So although they might not be groundbreaking in their foundational ideas, Crave might just have the recipe for success in how they combine these features together:

They are betting that if they control the whole process: the kitchen, the app and the delivery drivers, they can deliver a better experience and attract the best restaurants.

And so far, it appears to be paying off.

Taking on Silicon Valley from an old Pizza Hut

One of the advantages of the cloud kitchen concept, is that you don’t have to have a desirable location with high rent and lots of foot-traffic, instead you can be located anywhere with a kitchen: like the old Pizza Hut building where Crave cooked up their first orders.

Local newspaper Boise Dev has done a great job following the story of Crave and first reported on their planned launch back in January. Originally they had planned to build out a 15,000 square foot facility with space for 14 different kitchens ready to open in the Fall, but the Covid-19 crisis made them accelerate their plans.

While waiting for the full facility to complete, they launched with 4 initial restaurants from the temporary location in a former Pizza Hut. These initial 4 partners were award-winning restaurants from places like Seattle, North Carolina and San Francisco that were looking to get a foothold in fast-growing Boise. They hired local chefs in Boise and taught them their menus and thanks to Crave’s platform, that’s all they needed to get started delivering orders.

Unlike some of the competitors in this space, the final order is passed on to a full-time driver employee. This is an important part of Crave’s formula as they say that they:

“can take the dishes that are crafted by the restaurant chefs and put them in beautiful packaging and give to an employee driver who is actually concerned about how that arrives.”

And this is a key part of attracting highly acclaimed restaurants who want:

“to be part of a facility where they knew the food would show up as the chef intended.”

In short, by controlling the kitchen, the app and the delivery service, Crave can make sure that the whole process lives up to the premium service they want to deliver.

Judging by the fact that they just opened up their new flagship facility bringing on several more new restaurants it looks like they might be onto something. And all of this with only $1m of seed funding raised so far according to Crunchbase is no small feat.

According to their launch release back in May, they are looking to expand nationwide soon after their flagship facility launches. Well, their flagship facility just opened its doors - that means look out Silicon Valley, Crave might soon be coming to an old Pizza Hut near you.

Greg Dickens grew up in a small town of less than 2,000 people in rural New York State. After a decade working in finance and technology, he's now taking everything he has learned to create new opportunities for the people he grew up with by building digital tools that help local communities. You can check out his work here.