Camilla Opperman & Samantha Slager
Cofounders of Nimbus Kitchens
Camilla and Sam are the founders of Nimbus Kitchen, a ghost kitchen in NYC that serves renowned brands such as Roberta’s pizza. The currently run a 4,000 sqft kitchen on the Lower East Side that contains 10 individual kitchens, 4 ghost kitchens and the rest commissary spaces. Nimbus plans to expand nationally to help restaurants serve customers more efficiently from dark kitchens.Read more
Disclaimer: This interview is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a basis for investment decisions. In Practise is an independent publisher and all opinions expressed by guests are solely their own opinions and do not reflect the opinion of In Practise.
Can you provide a short introduction to Nimbus?
At a very high level, there are three facets to what Nimbus is. We are a shared kitchen, first and foremost. What that looks like is that we have licensed commercial kitchen spaces that can be rented hourly, on a really flexible basis. As a food business, you can come in and rent that space for as little as a couple hours at a time; you could rent it for a full day if you wanted. That’s the first facet, that really flexible commercial kitchen space.
Facet two is that we are similar to what most people think of when they hear the term ghost kitchen. So again, a licensed kitchen space, but those are rented on a longer-term basis. Businesses are coming in and renting that space on an annual term and then using that to run their delivery operations from. Then the third facet is our community front-of-house space. I'll let Sam speak to that because this is really her brainchild.
It's essentially a retail space in which members can use to co-work or people can rent as a private event space. It's a place where the community surrounding it can get a peek into what's going on and where their food is being made. Members can also create content. We have the studio kitchen where you can host tastings or cooking classes and it really has a ton of different functionalities. It really lends itself well to our business as a whole, which is a very flexible and scalable option for a food business at any level.
Can we just walk through then your facility so we can visualize it. Maybe you can start by sharing the location, the square footage and then we can discuss the setup.
Absolutely. We are currently sitting in our first kitchen facility in the Lower East Side in Manhattan. This space is 4,200 square feet on the ground floor with pretty significant frontage; we have about 40 feet of glass frontage with floor to ceiling windows. The front of the space, as Sam alluded to earlier, is that interface between the restaurants operating in the back of the house space and the community at large. We are currently sitting in that front-of-house space; that retail component which has the studio kitchen in it, which has the set up for our members to co-work, to relax, take meetings when they're not cooking in the back of the house.
We also have an area that's set up specifically for dispatch. That is an area where, as a food business that's running a delivery operation, you will put your food in that area and then we have staff there who helps facilitate the handoff between the restaurant and all of the different delivery drivers that are taking their food to the end consumer.
What locations do you typically look for?
Our goal is to be in every major city. Obviously, population density and proximity to the end consumer of foods is extremely important. When scouting out locations, we're looking for places that have high foot traffic, have a need for food options. Our first location is actually underneath a large apartment building, so we have tons of people that will also come and pick up food to go and are, primarily, just looking for that. Something interesting about our business is that we are an Opportunity Zone business so it's a little specific, but we're looking for locations in those areas.
Our first one, as we said, is the Lower East Side and we are looking to maintain at least 50% of all of our locations in Opportunity Zones. We want all of our locations to be ground floor so it lends itself really well to those kitchen operators. They're not bringing it up stairs or down stairs and they are cutting down the time it takes to actually pass off the food to the deliveries to get them out the door. It’s really important for our business.
But would it work in more residential areas though, or does it mainly have to be in densely populated cities or towns?
Because the majority of our businesses operating out of our space are doing delivery or some sort of off-premise dining, we do have to be proximate to the end consumer. There's certainly a possibility for us to be in slightly more residential areas but then you do, obviously, lose out a little bit on that foot traffic that you get in being in a more commercial space. I'd say, in New York City, anywhere you go is pretty good for our locations. It's obviously an incredibly dense place. There's a ton of foot traffic even if you're on side streets. In terms of where our first location is, it's very busy and we have two more facilities in the city of New York and those are all mixed-use areas. They're residential, they're commercial; they're everything because it's just a city.
On top of that, especially in New York, real estate is very expensive and for places that have higher cost of real estate, it really makes a lot of sense for our businesses. For the members in the space, it's obviously very costly to not only build your own kitchen but then to sign a ten-year lease or purchase a building in these big cities is, frankly, very unaffordable as a new business.
It's interesting you say that the foot traffic is really important because I would have thought that some of the restaurants would have used this concept to expand in some more residential areas where they don't have a customer base. I guess that assumes that that restaurant is well-known and that they can actually drive traffic online.
I think it doesn't ever hurt to get that extra visibility, something that hasn't been focused on as a ghost kitchen. Most ghost kitchens have been kind of under wraps. Half the time you're ordering on these delivery apps, you think you're ordering from XYZ restaurant, thinking it's coming from the restaurant, but little do you know it's coming out of a basement around the corner from you that doesn't have anywhere to sit. We really wanted to change that whole concept and bring that transparency to the end consumer.
I also think, from just a restaurant perspective or member's perspective, there's a huge amount of value in the fact that we have this retail frontage. We put all of our members’ logos on or our window in the front. We have a fair amount of foot traffic. A lot of people are knocking on our windows saying, hey, you have Roberta's Pizza operating out of your space; we had no idea, we're such a fan of them and, until now, we always had to go out to Brooklyn to get their pizza. That visibility has been hugely helpful and, particularly when you think about how oversaturated these delivery apps are and what makes a consumer pick restaurant A over restaurant B, I think it is that brand recognition and that understanding of where that food is coming from or that, oh, I actually have walked by that space. I've seen that logo around the corner. Great, I'm going to order that brand now, which frankly other ghost kitchens overlook.
Would you suggest that the other ghost kitchens, Kitchen United or Cloud Kitchens, are more suburban locations or are they also more in the city?
Neither of those operators has a presence in New York City yet, at least that is open. I think something that's really interesting about this ghost kitchen revolution or explosion is that most of them have been focused in LA and I think a lot of them have also been focused on launching virtual brands. They're coming up with their own concepts and launching them out of the kitchens, as opposed to helping existing operators expand their footprint. Something that we're really focused on is being complementary to the restaurant industry and helping existing brands that are known and loved expand their footprint in what was previously a prohibitively expensive place for them, which is Manhattan. I would say, as we look to expand, we're certainly not ruling out suburban locations, but just from an order volume perspective, from a cost of real estate perspective, it just makes a lot more sense for us to be in cities today.