When you can have complete control over the fit-out and menu, a quirky point of difference and reduced operating costs, it’s no surprise foodservice operators – like the two Hospitality spoke with recently – are getting excited about shipping containers.
The Grind & Co
The container is set up really well. It was a huge feat to get it designed correctly. We’re working – obviously – in a very small, tight space so getting the most from the container and making it look incredible was a challenge in itself. But we did it all on our own – I have to give us credit for that. We had someone fit it out but the whole design, from the colour of the floor to the light on the ceiling and the Chevron design on the front – everything was our idea.
It still cost a bit, but I think, for us, it was about having that complete control about where we could put it, because that opened up the door so much in regards to the locations. Instead of having to rely on a landlord to build us a caf I said ‘we will build it, you just need to give us the space.’ So that’s what made it really appealing.
One of the challenges is that three sides of the container are open all the time, so everyone can see what you’re doing, what you’re saying, from the second you open your doors to the second you close them. You’re completely exposed. So it’s a challenge, but it’s also a good thing because it means we have to keep our presentation, service, food quality and service at 100 percent.
So when you walk up to it you see a big, beautiful glass display which during breakfast is full of ham and cheese croissants, fruit salads and yoghurts – all really delicious breakfast foods, as well as cronuts, scrolls, muffins, brownies and all the naughty stuff as well. We have a beautiful three group La Marzocco coffee machine which we had custom-painted copper. Then on the side of it we have a pop-up bench which we call the Sip n’ Go where you can just sit and have a quick coffee and leave. We’ve got lots of seating around as well; we’ve got enough seating for around 20 or 25 people.
We fully expected for it to be very hard to get going, but I think there was such a desperate need for great quality food, coffee and service that we picked up a lot quicker than we expected. Also, I took the time to go and door knock … I gave them a complimentary coffee voucher and a menu and that pretty much doubled our business overnight.”
We’ve been baking this particular dessert at one of our restaurants in Sydney for about five years now. And in the last three years it’s been getting a lot of attention…people started ringing up the restaurant and saying they’d heard about our knafeh and they’d like to come in for dinner so they can try it afterwards, or asking if we do takeaway. So the takeaway side of the business escalated, to the point where it was actually slowing the restaurant down.
Launching the container was tough because the council had never been faced with a kitchen like this – that’s moveable, and it’s not really a food truck either. It’s inbetween a food truck and a pop-up store. A lot of councils don’t know how to approach it. But it didn’t take long for it to turn around, and now councils approach us.
In terms of equipment, we’ve only got the one oven which is a conveyor oven. When we launched we had underbench refrigeration for all of our dairy and cheeses. But in the first week or two it couldn’t handle the quantity so now we have a mobile coolroom which follows us. We also have a generator. But in saying that, we very rarely have had to use it because we just tap into local power and we don’t require much power because our oven runs on gas. It’s just for a few lights and the conveyor for the oven.
Compared to running a restaurant, it is less costly, but it really comes down to the concept and how you execute it. Logistics is a big thing; we’re constantly moving and we’re in different locations all the time so we’ve got to adapt to different environments and to get around the fact that you’re touring constantly, you’ve really got to build up your fan-base.“We’re selling an experience. With food trucks – if they do a couple of hundred people they’d be quite content, but as for Knafeh, because we are very destination-based, we are sort of averaging a couple of thousand people a night.”