How about a classic Italian risotto made with native sticky black rice or an umami pasta with miso, served fresh in Coimbatore? “It’s a great fusion of Italian and Japanese flavours and tastes,” describes Siddharth Sethi, one of the founders of The Cloud Kitchen Project (@cloudkitchenproject), a community first cloud kitchen based in RS Puram.
Three friends, Pavithraa Priya, Dhiren Khturia and Siddharth, who share a common passion for food, came together to start this venture and offer an intimate culinary experience for patrons as well as themselves. The trio is a part of a growing tribe that is thriving in the delivery and takeaway space with novel business ideas.
The domestic cloud kitchens market is expected to grow from $400 million in 2019 to $2 billion by 2024, as per a report by RedSeer Management Consulting. Cloud kitchens, called ghost or dark kitchens that serve only food deliveries, are leading from the front to bring about this change. Unlike brick-and-mortar restaurants, cloud kitchens do not have a dine-in facility. They take orders via apps — in-house or Zomato or Swiggy — and operate single or multiple food brands.
Dee’s Cookhaus (@deescookhaus), located at Ram Nagar, offers Thai, Indonesian, Italian, and Sri Lankan gourmet food for lunch and dinner. Started by Deepika Kumaran in September last year, it has added a sub brand Crumble and Cookies for gourmet cookies. “With restrictions in dining, the cloud kitchen peaked during the pandemic. I converted the terrace of my house into a kitchen.” While pursuing her MBA in London, Deepika worked part time at an Indo-Mexican restaurant there. “The exposure and research helped me curate an international menu. People here are game to try Thai, Chinese, sushi or anything new. We are planning to introduce Turkish chicken kebabs, falafel wraps, and African jollof rice too.”
While Siddharth and Pavithraa have graduated in Hospitality from ITC School in Manipal, Dhiren is a passionate cook. They have jointly done a few projects on consultancy earlier. Adds Pavithra, “People here always wanted something new but didn’t have access to. We have never done a South Indian menu till now and every week our experimental food is a sell out.”
At Cloud Kitchen Project, every dish has a story behind it, they add. The team has so far executed more than 100 orders over a span of 35 weekend menus.
“We get inspiration from our travel experiences and enhance it like the umami pasta or something shared by our employees who are from across India. One of our chefs is from a village near Kolkata where they slice down brinjals, coat them with besan , fry like bhajiyas. Later, they roast onions directly on the flame, chop them, add mustard oil, lemon, coriander, and mix the brinjal pakoras . You will see this on our menu soon,” explains Siddharth. They come out with a new menu every Wednesday on Instagram and deliver dinner orders on weekends.
Networking and community is priority. “You cannot place an order without chatting with one of the founders. To enhance the experience, we came up with a brunch menu where the QR code on the brunch box opens a list of music that they can listen to in the background while they enjoy food.” Their Instagram page is buzzing with behind-the-scenes videos of what goes on in the 2,000 sq.ft kitchen. Says Siddharth, adding, “We want to build a community; a friendly space for restaurants, small businesses, vendors, farmers, and organic players to grow and help each other.”
Along with new players, restaurant owners like William Fan and Wilson Fan, who have run China Valley and Ninhao restaurants for over two decades, ventured aggressively into the online deliveries space during the pandemic. Their Wills Cloud Kitchen doles out manchow soup, lippen chicken, chilli garlic rice, Thai basil noodles, sea food platter, the works. “We wanted to keep the business afloat and the staff engaged. We cannot depend only on food aggregators. We roped in local delivery guys too. People can set up a cloud kitchen with a budget between ₹2 lakh and ₹15 lakh. A clean, hygienic kitchen space is a pre-requisite. And, passion.”
Agrees Lalitha Gowtham, founder and admin of Kovai Foodies, an online forum that tracks food trends across the globe. It has over 20,000 members. “Though cloud kitchens have been around, large and small players like homemakers see a booming business opportunity now.”
The bigger picture
Ranjana Singhal, who has been in the industry for two decades, says food aggregators play an important role, especially when you have to meet orders from multiple locations. She had to shut down two of her cloud kitchens while the existing one offers parathas, sandwiches, pizzas and pastas. “Finger foods like tikkas, and burgers, and maybe biryani work well, especially among youngsters.With stringent FSSAI norms, there is also a reality check among hoe chefs.”
The Cloud Kitchen Project has added a sub brand Van Dough Pizzas (inspired by Van Gogh!) that makes artisanal pizzas. Someof the unique flavours on offer include Kerala roast vegetables pizza with pickled onions and continental ones like sherry wine, cream sauce with leeks and garlic used as the base instead tomato marinado and topped with baby potatoes and rosemary
“One thing we really miss is serving people, watching them react to our food, and the hustle and bustle of a packed dining hall,” says Dhiren, adding, “Dishes, flavour profiles, cuisines that work well become a separate brand. Like Van Dough, there will be many more. We also want to act as a platform for restaurants to help gauge the market, experiment with menus and help them build a brand. Currently, trial runs are on for a shawarma brand in Chennai.”