WeWork for kitchens

Updated: Nov 18, 2018, 10:29 IST | Ekta Mohta

Co-working kitchens is an idea whose time has come. With their first such space in Vikhroli, the founders of FoodCoWorks have launched a food startup that can help launch all food startups

WeWork for kitchens
Two of the co-founders of FoodCoWorks, Swapnil Dhotre and Preet Kamble, at their Vikhroli space. Pics by Ashish Raje

The founders of startups are seers before they are CEOs. While the rest of us are hoofing it in the present, they are visualising the future. So, while the 300-sqft, co-working kitchen of FoodCoWorks in Vikhroli doesn't look like much to me, the three co-founders, Preet Kamble, Sumit Gupta and Swapnil Dhotre, can see 100 kitchens, spread across Mumbai, at least 3,000 sqft each. This kitchen is the prototype, the initial shape of things to come.

Kamble, Gupta and Dhotre met at food delivery startup, TinyOwl. Kamble was a home chef, delivering out of TinyOwl; Gupta was in corporate sales; and Dhotre was a culinary manager. With 24 years in the culinary world, Kamble had already run a couple of restaurants in Los Angeles, and set up a bakery business with his wife in Mumbai upon their return in 2014; Gupta and Dhotre, too, were ready to make the jump from employees to employers. Last year, the trio sat together to combine their insider knowledge of the F&B industry for the next step. "We were speaking to home chefs and restaurants about their problems and the problems that we, as industry professionals, were facing," says Dhotre. "This is how the idea of FoodCoWorks germinated."

Sumit Gupta, co-founder
Sumit Gupta, co-founder

When you've been there, done that, "you realise where the pain points are," says Kamble. "If you were to start a restaurant and you have a great concept, first, you need a place. So, you'll have to go through a middleman. Find the space, pay the brokerage, then the deposit, then the rental. Now you have empty space: what do you do? You stare at it and say, 'Oh my god.' [Because] your meter has started. You start building up your kitchen: the cabinets, plumbing, electrical, yeh-woh. Then the licence: that's again a big part now because of the fire in Kamala Mills.

So, once you do all those things, you are basically burning cash. Your capex is huge at this point, aur abhi tak dhanda shuru nahi hua hai. What we're trying to do is, you give me a call and say, 'I want a space. I have an idea.' So, you come and look at our kitchen. Tomorrow, you start a business. The next day, you can actually start serving to the public." According to Gupta's cost-benefit analysis (and his sales pitch to investors), an individual, 300-sqft delivery kitchen in Lower Parel would cost about `20-25 lakhs (a Rational oven alone can cost up to `10 lakhs); a co-working kitchen, on the other hand, would cost south of Rs 5 lakhs.

In August 2017, from the same kitchen in Vikhroli, they started their own delivery service called BonEats. "We wanted to test the waters in this segment," says Gupta. "For that, you have to create the kitchen, go through the problems and identify how to overcome them. You have to do it yourself; you can't just rely on others' data." By April this year, they were ready to shut shop on BonEats and open FoodCoWorks for business. Currently, they have three clients: Abhay Singh, who runs a corporate breakfast service called Take On Hunger, and uses the kitchen from 4 am to 10 am; Aanchal Date, who runs a delivery service called Vimshen in the day shift; and Sahil Vora, of Moussestruck, who uses their refrigerator. "All the clients we have is through word-of-mouth," says Gupta. Singh, who found them on Facebook, testifies, "The most important part of a food startup is a good kitchen. We were looking at a lot of property websites and brokers.

Most of the places were very raw, and since I was new to the industry, I was not an expert on how to install and costing. I was very surprised to find a well-built option [in FoodCoWorks]." They charge a 10-20 per cent premium on the rentals "because we're providing equipment and electricity," says Dhotre. "In the future, we will even provide the ingredients."

Half of our hour-long interview, in fact, is devoted to their plans for the future. "We are starting with the kitchen infrastructure facility, but that's not the end goal," says Gupta. "We want to organise the entire system. Nearly 2-3 lakh street food vendors are operating now. They will also be our target customer."

Dhotre adds, "For example, food trucks. They have another satellite kitchen. Only [the assembly] happens on the truck. So, effectively, every food truck has to take another space. Maybe they could use our kitchen for four hours." The idea is to give users a pay-per-use facility. And, as Gupta says, "Customer acquisition is not a problem." They've finalised a 2,500-sqft space in Kalina, and they already have five confirmed clients, with 25 more in the pipeline. "We were approached by UberEATS," says Dhotre. "They're waiting for us to scale up."

UberEATS won't have to wait for long, as the trio wants to expand, and fast. As Kamble says, "We want to be the WeWork of co-working kitchens. [Because] everybody can be a food entrepreneur with us."

Chef Divesh Aswani conducts a workshop at the space
Chef Divesh Aswani conducts a workshop at the space

A boutique co-working kitchen
Two years ago, Gauri Devidayal and Jay Yousuf, of the Colaba restaurant, The Table, had founded Magazine Street Kitchen in Byculla as a multipurpose kitchen. So, while it is a co-working space, it's also a lot more. "We have four cooking suites, and each has its own cooking range, fridge, oven and workstation," says Devidayal.

Co-founders of Magazine Street Kitchen, Gauri Devidayal and Jay Yousuf
Co-founders of Magazine Street Kitchen, Gauri Devidayal and Jay Yousuf

"If someone is opening a restaurant, and they want to use one of the suites to experiment on their menus or do trials with a potential chef, they can come and use one space [and pay] by the hour. For instance, London Taxi in Kamala Mills did their bar and menu trials at Magazine Street Kitchen." When asked if a newbie can launch their business from there, she says, "We've had enquiries like that, but that's more like renting the space on a permanent basis. That's not what we do, because the kitchen has so many different functions. We do cooking workshops, or call guest chefs over for pop-ups. We also have a 24x7 bakery over there. We're not a co-working space in that sense that someone could make it their personal [office]. When we first opened, it took a while to spread the word. But now, there's always something happening. Between workshops, guest chefs, private events and [renting the space for] ad shoots, it's pretty much in use 15-20 days of the month."

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