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Kitchen Hub unveils new location at Longo’s Maple, welcomes six restaurants

A novel restaurant food hall concept for retail has boosted sales and foot traffic at two Longo’s stores in the Greater Toronto Area. The company behind the idea is eyeing expansion with other retailers.

After a multi-million-dollar renovation at the site, Kitchen Hub’s food hall welcomed six new restaurants at the store, offering customers food and delivery options while allowing them to shop for their groceries.

Daniel Hoffer, director of business development and investment, recently took Grocery Business on a store and Hub area tour.

“What’s exciting about that is the ability to cross-sell with Longo’s Home Meal Replacement (HMR) products and the restaurant brands we’ve brought in. So, if you’re ordering for delivery now through Kitchen Hub and you’re also a customer of Uber Eats, you can access Kitchen Hub’s food offerings within the Uber Eats app. When you search for Kitchen Hub, you’ll find our food hall app listed. From there, you can order from all the brands available. Additionally, you can opt to order a delicious pizza or rotisserie chicken, and you can bundle these items together for convenience,” says Hoffer.

The primary goal remains to drive traffic and sales while enhancing the overall guest experience within the grocery setting.

At Longo’s Maple, kiosks with touchscreens to order food allow customers to order quickly and pickup meals as they complete their shopping. The six restaurants include Café Landwer, Wingstop, Mandy’s Salads, Ambiyan, Pai, and Three Brothers Pizza. Customers can also order or pick up food from Longo’s staff and use delivery apps like Uber Eats or Kitchen Hub’s website to place an order.

While they’re working with Longo’s to expand its offerings at other stores, Hoffer says there may be an opportunity to develop at other Empire-owned stores like Sobeys across the GTA. They’re also considering plans to go national, bringing brands from other Canadian cities to Toronto and vice-versa.

Kitchen Hub’s evolution from ghost kitchen concept to grocery haven and food hall

Created in 2019, Kitchen Hub is one of Canada’s first virtual food halls providing access to takeout and delivery. Its first location opened in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic when takeout and delivery orders spiked across the GTA due to lockdowns.

Hoffer said the concept originated within the ghost kitchen industry. However, he added that the company had never fully embraced the idea of a ghost kitchen.

“We firmly believe that people prefer to know who’s preparing their food and want to connect with brands they trust. Additionally, offering the option for customers to walk in and place their orders is essential. The ghost kitchen model didn’t fully align with these principles,” says Hoffer. “Therefore, we prioritize collaborating with top brands, allowing them to cook their own food and providing customers with an in-person dining experience. The commitment to maintaining a physical presence rather than being exclusively focused on delivery or takeout was important to our brand.”

Hoffer says they started their journey housed in an industrial or semi-retail building on the Queensway in Toronto, featuring just three kitchens. According to Hoffer, the success of their top-selling brands, including Pai, Fresh and Carbon Bar, as delivery became popular, prompted them to expand their operations. Hoffer says their next venture was the Castlefield site, their operational hub with 13 kitchens, designed to offer an elevated food experience. Hoffer says they realized integrating their concept into a traditional retail environment aligned with their vision for creating a magical dining experience.

Recognizing an opportunity, Kitchen Hub partnered with Longo’s Liberty Village, leveraging underused space to pilot their concept within a grocery setting. According to Hoffer, Kitchen Hub’s concept’s evolution was driven by customers’ positive response, which is evident in increased sales and foot traffic. 

Kitchen Hub has increased sales for Longo’s with the concept, boosting foot traffic and, more importantly, orders through delivery apps, which the Maple location didn’t previously have in operation.

“They have 38 locations around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), and they offer fantastic pizza priced at $12.99 for a large, which is quite competitive these days. However, they hadn’t ventured into pizza delivery previously, despite it being one of the most popular delivery options. The concept of repurposing and rebranding Longo’s Pizza is something they’re genuinely enthusiastic about, and we share that excitement because it’s a fantastic product. Introducing delivery for this product is an exciting prospect and is part of the cool factor and efficiency for the grocer. Plus, it doesn’t interrupt the guest’s experience,” says Hoffer.

Kitchen Hub’s vision for Longo’s Maple

Hoffer says the guest experience was carefully considered at Longo’s Maple. Six to eight restaurants are welcome at each site. He says, “it’s our sweet spot.”

He added that Kitchen Hub recruits recognized brands that don’t necessarily compete but rather complement each other. The company seeks out restaurants and flavour profiles currently underrepresented in the area. Additionally, they aim to select restaurants that resonate with individuals who have recently relocated from downtown Toronto to suburbs like Vaughan, Ont., to establish a sense of familiarity with the customer base.

The kiosks offer an advantage in boosting sales and alleviate the burden on the grocer to hire staff to take orders. During the renovation, multiple kitchens were built so that prospective restaurants could use the space. A crucial aspect of its efficiency is a conveyor belt installed behind the scenes near the roof of the building to deliver orders to customers. The restaurant staff prepares the food, packages it and places it on the conveyor belt, where it is then dropped off for customers. A small staff team assigns it a code and notifies customers when it’s ready. Additionally, customers’ names and orders are listed on a large screen, providing updates on the status of their orders.

So far, the opening has been a huge success. Not only has Kitchen Hub created at least 60 jobs, but they’ve also been able to appeal to different groups in the neighbourhood. Hoffer says Wingstop has been a huge addition and is resonating with high schoolers from the area. Likewise, they are also appealing to diverse populations looking for ethnic cuisines. Greek and Mexican could be coming soon, he said. 

“It’s exactly what I feel good about. The best restaurants create strong, deep and meaningful connections with their customers. Pai is a prime example, but many other restaurants also achieve this. Our goal is to extend access to these restaurants to suburban areas and even downtown. There’s always room for more restaurants downtown and we’re excited about those opportunities, too. From a suburban perspective, bringing these restaurants out of the suburbs offers a special experience for guests who have forged a connection.”

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