When you sit down for a meal at a restaurant these days, you might find yourself wondering what their top priority is. Is it you, or is it the steady flow of delivery drivers picking up online orders?
Chef Collective is aiming to clear up that confusion – and to help restaurants save money and adapt to a new dining landscape.
The innovative facility in Coorparoo houses 29 ‘dark kitchen’ spaces, purpose-built for preparing online food deliveries.
“Online food delivery has traditionally been crammed into the traditional brick-and-mortar dine-in model, which doesn’t really make sense,” Chef Collective General Manager Sam Robertson explains.
“When you go to a restaurant, there are certain things you expect to find – chefs preparing meals, certainly, but also a front-of-house dining area, wait staff, a sense of ambience. If you’re dining in, those things all need to be there. But if you’re taking those meals straight out the door and delivering them to a customer’s home, then most of those things don’t need to be there.
“For the restaurant owner, that means every meal that goes out the door via an online delivery platform has excess overheads attached to it.”
The Chef Collective model streamlines the process of preparing online orders for existing restaurants, and lowers the barriers to entry to the Brisbane online food delivery market for new businesses.
“They can get off the ground in weeks, not months,” Robertson says. “We handle all the logistics like permitting and installation, and they can walk straight into efficient, ready-to-go kitchen spaces.”
The Chef Collective team are responsible for cleaning the kitchen units and handing orders to couriers, so operators leasing the spaces can concentrate on cooking.
Operators are also provided with access to software that merges all of the orders coming into their kitchen from the various online delivery platforms in one place, so they don’t need to keep track of multiple apps and devices.
“Essentially,” Robertson says, “the Chef Collective offering boils down to space, service and software.”
The facility opened in April 2021, and as of June 2021, half of its 29 kitchens were pre-sold, including both local and interstate operators.
“The majority of the businesses who are setting up shop here are pre-existing Brisbane-based businesses who see this as an opportunity to expand into a new section of the city with minimal overheads,” Robertson says.
“We have one client who runs three unique brands that are available on all of the delivery apps – Jack and Will’s Burger Joint, Clayfield Seafood and Schnitzengiggles – out of one single kitchen here.
“We’re also having conversations with international brands about using Chef Collective to enter into the Australian market, and we have entrepreneurs who are coming up with new brands and new menus and bringing them to the market here. That’s exciting, because with such low overheads, there’s really nothing stopping anyone coming up with a great idea and using this facility to get it off the ground.”
Robertson says the most difficult part of launching Chef Collective was deciding where to do it. His team spent 12 months considering their options before choosing Coorparoo, four kilometres south-east of Brisbane’s CBD.
“We chose Coorparoo because not only is this inner-south pocket of Brisbane booming, with a young, relatively high-income demographic, but it also gives us great access to high-density areas like Woolloongabba, South Brisbane and East Brisbane, which is obviously crucial for food delivery.
“The other thing that’s important when you’re opening a facility like this is finding a location where you’re not disrupting residents; you’re not introducing excess traffic; and noise isn’t going to be an issue. So when we found this little industrial pocket near Coorparoo Train Station, everything just aligned perfectly.”
Robertson says the Brisbane Economic Development Agency (EDA) played a crucial role in getting Chef Collective up and running.
“We identified Brisbane EDA as a key stakeholder from day one,” he says, “because we knew they had a very strong presence in the food and beverage space through the Future Food Initiative. It just made sense for us to bring them in early on in the process when we were developing this new concept and talk to them about who we should be speaking to, and what we needed to do to get this project off the ground.
“Brisbane EDA were extremely helpful through the whole licencing and permitting process. They helped us work very closely with Brisbane City Council. The beauty of Brisbane City Council is that it’s the largest City Council in Australia by both population and area, so when it comes to regulations, you’re dealing with one point of contact, as opposed to Sydney and Melbourne, where there are multiple councils to consider. It just makes things so much smoother.
“Brisbane EDA are also helping us to engage with the industry, and educate restaurants about what Chef Collective could mean for them. They hosted a webinar with us for hospitality operators and owners, and they’ve got great connections with all of the major players in the Brisbane food scene and beyond. They’ve helped us get the word out that we’re not here to cannibalise existing businesses. It’s a purely complimentary business model, and the EDA has been instrumental in getting that message to the market.
“Anyone who’s looking to start something new or push a project forward should definitely reach out to Brisbane EDA, because reaching out to them has been extremely beneficial to us.”