The opening of a "virtual restaurant center" in Grandview Heights soon will become a reality.

Kitchen United, a California-based company that provides kitchen space for restaurants and food-service businesses that offer delivery, catering and takeout, plans to open its third -- or fourth -- location in the spring at 1471-1481 W. Goodale Blvd. in Grandview.

The company also hopes to open an outlet in Atlanta at about the same time, said Meredith Sandland, Kitchen United's chief operating officer.

"It's going to be a race to see which one opens first," she said.

Kitchen United opened its first center in June 2018 in Pasadena, California. A second location opened in November 2018 in Chicago, with restaurants beginning deliveries from the location in January.

The Grandview location is expected to open in May or June, Sandland said.

It will offer kitchen space for 10 to 20 restaurant and food-service businesses, Sandland said.

Meals on wheels

Food delivery is the fastest-growing segment of the restaurant and food business, she said.

Deliveries represent about 5 percent of the restaurant industry market, but that share is expected to grow exponentially over the next few years, Sandland said.

"It's not just pizza and Chinese food that you can have delivered now," she said. "Through GrubHub, DoorDash and other delivery services, you can have just about any type of cuisine delivered to your door.

"Different people have different motivations for why they choose to have food delivered. They may be coming home from work and don't want to cook; they may have some friends over and don't want to stop their activities just to prepare some food; or they may have disabilities that might it difficult for them to go out to eat."

The food businesses Kitchen United targets for its kitchen-space operations include national and local brands looking to expand their food-delivery services without impacting their dine-in business, in addition to small startup companies and restaurants that want to expand into a new market without having to build or open a new restaurant, Sandland said.

Kitchen United is accepting inquiries from companies interested in operating out of the Grandview location, she said.

"Each partner will have its own kitchen space in our center, and they will develop their own menu and run their own operations independently of us and each other," Sandland said.

Customers will not be able to dine at the Grandview center, but businesses might offer limited carryout service at the site, she said.

A general manager for the local kitchen center will be named in the coming weeks, Sandland said.

"Goodale Boulevard is an ideal location for us because its so close to Ohio State University -- young people tend to be the first people to adapt to and celebrate restaurant delivery -- downtown and dense suburbs like Grandview and Upper Arlington," Sandland said. "It's also close to Grandview Yard."

The location will offer access to a large customer base for the restaurant partners, whether they offer delivery or takeout service, she said.

"Our goal at Kitchen United is to help restaurants effectively and efficiently capitalize on growing consumer demand and increase revenue, either by entering a new market or neighborhood in a cost-effective way or by easing the operational challenge created by consumers who want to be anywhere but inside the restaurant," said Jim Collins, Kitchen United's chief executive officer.

In planning its expansion, Kitchen United researches a potential market to learn the demographics of the area and the type of restaurants and cuisine that are in demand in the location, Sandland said.

"That helps us pinpoint the type of restaurant businesses we want to bring to our kitchen center," she said. "It makes each one different. The kitchen center in Columbus is going to be different than the one we have in Atlanta."

The company plans to open up to 15 additional locations over the next year, Sandland said.

Not always ideal

Food delivery is a growing source of additional revenue for restaurants, but it may not be right for everyone, said Homa Moheimani, media and communications manager at the Ohio Restaurant Association.

The association and the Cleveland Research recently completed a survey of restaurant operators and food-service professionals representing 60 companies and more than 400 locations around Ohio.

The survey showed 75 percent of the respondents use mobile ordering, Moheimani said.

"There's a growing portion of the customer base that is choosing to use social media to have their meals delivered to them," she said. "Especially the millennial and Gen Zers -- they want to get what they want the way they want to get it."

Businesses such as Kitchen United can offer a cost-efficient way for food-service operations to begin a new food-delivery business or expand the delivery service their establishment offers, Moheimani said.

According to the State of Mobile Report issued by market-data firm App Annie, food-delivery orders using apps grew by 380 percent from 2016 to 2018, she said. A 2018 report from the research firm Cowen and Co. predicted restaurant-delivery sales will grow an average of 12 percent to $76 billion over the next four years in the United States.

"We just visited and shot a video at Berwick Pizza in Green Camp, a tiny town near Marion," Moheimani said. "They are the only restaurant in town, and even they have added mobile ordering in this small community with a population of 300.

"It's a trend that's happening everywhere," she said.

But restaurant owners must consider whether delivery is the right method of providing their product to customers, Moheimani said.

"Something like pizza's easy to deliver, but do people really want to eat French fries delivered 45 minutes after they're prepared?" she said. "A restaurant has to look at it as an option but also ask themselves if this fits in with the business model they're using. It might be good for a lot of restaurants, but a Jeff Ruby or Cameron Mitchell restaurant where a big part of what they're offering is the dine-in experience may not be as interested in delivery."

Another new trend in the restaurant business is the food hall, where space is offered to several restaurants or food businesses with a shared dining area, Moheimani said.

"It's sort of an enhanced version of a food court," she said. "Cameron Mitchell is planning to open the first food hall in Columbus at the Budd Dairy building in Italian Village."

In the years to come, shared kitchen spaces and food halls may become as commonplace in the restaurant business as food trucks, Moheimani said.

"Any business needs to stay informed about the changes in their industry and decide what they need to do to keep pace," she said.

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