Catfish combines traditional African ingredients with contemporary wellness concerns for a menu where everything is organic, free from gluten, refi ned sugar, soy and raw dairy. The business operates from a central kitchen run by business incubator Kitchen Nation in Business Bay Image Credit: Supplied

Gbemi Giwa wants her slice of the pie that is the gig economy. Her solution is a cloud kitchen, a restaurant built around food deliveries. “Our entire model is built on online; so about 90 per cent of the sales come through our third-party delivery apps such as Deliveroo, Lunch On, Uber Eats, Talabat, Zomato and Careem Eats,” the 25-year-old Nigerian blogger tells GN Focus. Her concept, Catfish, combines traditional African ingredients with contemporary wellness concerns for a menu where everything is organic, free from gluten, refined sugar, soy and raw dairy.

Just under six months old, the business operates from a central kitchen run by business incubator Kitchen Nation in Business Bay, where customers can dine in if they like. “As we don’t have a space of our own, we are able to save on overhead costs such as rent and staffing,” she says. “From where I’m standing, Catfish will always be an online brand. Our model works and I wouldn’t change it.”

As we don’t have a space of our own, we are able to save on overhead costs such as rent and staffing

- Gbemi Giwa, Founder, Catfish

Between 20 and 35 per cent of each transaction goes to the delivery platforms, but the payoff is not having to invest in her own delivery system. Giwa isn’t alone. The consultancy KPMG estimates that rental kitchens are a growing trend, with deliveries comprising a quarter of all revenues for 32 per cent of UAE restaurants, as compared to 21 per cent last year.

Virtual restaurants

In an indication of just how the gig economy is changing, wannabe foodpreneurs — or existing restaurants looking for new revenue streams — can now turn to the delivery apps such as UberEats and Talabat for a helping hand. They may not offer health insurance and service benefits, but they also facilitate entrepreneurship.

Damien Drap, General Manager at Uber Eats GCC, explains how the company enables virtual restaurants (VRs), also known as cloud kitchens in trade parlance. Such restaurants only exist in the digital world with a banner on a food delivery app, and no physical store front, but the food that arrives at your home may be cooked by a partner kitchen.

By analysing orders by location, time and volume, among others factors, the company helps restaurants build new business and revenue opportunities, he says. “Working with Uber Eats mitigates some of the risks entrepreneurs could face in the F&B industry.”

Today in the UAE, we have thousands of restaurants on the app, and are working with more than 100 operational VRs to help them identify gaps in the market

- Damien Drap, General Manager, Uber Eats GCC

UberEats first dished up the idea in the US, where it now has 1,600 VRs in 300 cities. “Today in the UAE, we have thousands of restaurants on the app, and are working with more than 100 operational VRs to help them identify gaps in the market,” Drap says. The app helps out with everything from menu and selection to food photography and marketing through its social media channels, as well as providing data and insights to drive awareness and business to these new ventures – all without charging an activation fee, Drap says.

Quick launches

At Talabat, meanwhile, Chief Operating Officer Toon Gyssels says the app can take a cloud kitchen live across the entire UAE within just three weeks.

“With cloud kitchens, we enable existing restaurants to scale much faster without taking a big risk or committing a big investment,” he told GN Focus in an email interview. Talabat aims to help existing and new restaurants experiment in the online food ordering world, with quick feedback on what customers want and don’t want, so business owners can easily create new brands or test new menus, dishes and prices.

With cloud kitchens, we enable existing restaurants to scale much faster without taking a big risk or committing a big investment

- Toon Gyssels, Chief Operating Officer, Talabat

The Delivery Hero Group has different models available for partners depending on their needs. These include full service, where restaurants don’t even need to cook, as well as infrastructure and shared service, where the restaurant needs to operate the kitchen itself. “Talabat has nine virtual kitchens in the UAE from which we can support more than 100 brands and are currently supporting 50,” he says.