Let's Eat

Going to the dark side

They've been hit hard by the pandemic but are finding new ways of feeding us



By day, Adam Zeitlin’s kitchen is filled with a team of chefs creating his MyKoCo branded kosher frozen meals — which he launched at the start of lockdown and which he is now selling via his website and kosher supermarkets.

At 3pm, there’s a changing of the guard, when a second team (of Japanese chefs) arrives to produce a Japanese menu under his Yamiko brand, which offers meat-based Japanese food like duck rolls, chicken teriyaki and chicken katzu rolls, delivered via Deliveroo.

Zeitlin’s business reflects the growing trend for so-called dark kitchens —using commercial kitchens exclusively for food delivery. This model allows him to fully maximise his premises.

“It’s easy for me to switch between the two, as they are both meaty and parev — the changeover is relatively simple.”

For him, what he’s doing makes great commercial sense: “Running two separate companies at the same times works well. I haven’t got any increased costs, just the extra labour and twice as much productivity. It means I’m getting the best value out of the space.”

“Dark kitchens are definitely a growing area. Near the industrial estate where my kitchen is based in Kingsbury, there are several units in which dark kitchens are operated for big brands like Pret a Manger and Mexican brand, Tortilla.”

He explains that companies are doing this as their overheads are lower and they can charge the same price for their products. “People are trying to cut their costs and improve margins. For the kosher market, it has taken caterers into new areas — like Ben Tenenblat’s Crave London brand, which is offering kosher diners food hasn’t been available to them before.”

High end caterer, Ben Tenenblat, was also inspired by the mainstream restaurant industry trend: “A friend looks after a fashionable Asian restaurant, and they had opened a dark kitchen to broaden their reach.”

Tenenblat launched Crave London in the summer — offering KLBD-supervised, gourmet street food. Initially, his team would prep the orders in his catering kitchens, to be finished and served from an shiny, Airstream trailer that was taken to different synagogue car parks on pre-arranged slots.

At the start, he’d wanted to keep his involvement in the new brand under the radar: “My catering company offers fine dining and I didn’t want to attach a high-end price tag to this offer” he explains.

The concept proved popular, but was restricted by the trailer, which limited sales to the days he could find locations within the community. With the effects of the pandemic showing no signs of abating, he decided to widen his market via Deliveroo. The food is cooked and dispatched from his Colindale catering kitchens — but can also be collected by customers if they prefer.

He has also been able to increase the range of food on offer; “The trailer had restricted what we could offer in terms of menu. Now we can introduce other items — a broader range including more lighter options; and we keep things fresh with specials just for that week.”

Specials have included a 28-day aged rib of British grass-fed beef steak sandwich and French onion soup served with a steak and ale pie. Also in the pipeline is are Sicilian pizzas — “We have a fantastic Sicilian chef and great pizza ovens — we’ll be setting up a separate dairy kitchen under our kashrut licence.”

Tenenblat also has found benefits to this model: “I have a kitchen that used to serve hundreds of people, and we can use it to double up the equipment we use for Crave and we’re also using it to prepare our gourmet frozen meals which we sell via our website.”

When demand shot up during the first lockdown, founder of Slice Pizza, Avi Schwartz needed to reach customers beyond his Golders Green catchment area. So he found himself not only embracing the dark kitchen trend, but also trailblazing in terms of kashrut.

“I’d actually been thinking about opening in a different location for years, but had been unable to find the right premises. During the last lockdown, there was a lot of demand from customers wanting kosher pizza in St John’s Wood, Baker Street and beyond. I was unable to travel that far when I had so many local customers also wanting deliveries.”

So, in April, he picked up the phone to Zev Igbi, co-owner of Swiss Cottage-based Habiba’s Deli with wife, Yasmin. “I’ve known Zev since he started in the family business at La Fiesta and we get on. He’s trying to bring kosher food to that part of the world with the deli which also has a small supermarket and sushi. He called me back the next day and asked ‘when can we do it?’!”

The main hurdle was going to be the kosher licence, as it meant placing a milky pizza kitchen within premises licensed to sell meat. “There was no dual meat and milk licence anywhere else with the Fed (my licensing authority) nor with KLBD — who Zev is with. Fortunately, they were up for it, so I’m working with them both now. They’ve been great.”

He now operates a dark (pizza) kitchen downstairs at Habiba’s. “It’s in a side room with its own fridges and ovens. We serve pizzas, chips, fish and chips and pasta dishes all of which are available via Deliveroo.”

The outpost means he is able to send his kosher menu to Camden, St John’s Wood, Kentish Town, Belsize Park, Primrose Hill and Hampstead. “Deliveroo don’t take the food to Maida Vale or further south, but if the demand is there in future, I’ll arrange for drivers. Plus collection is always possible.”

Necessity has been behind these inventions, but Teneblat still hopes for the return of simcha celebrations “I want to get back to what we do best. We’ve recently got into The Savoy and can’t wait to go back to catering simchas but we’ll keep the trailer going for private hire and events — so never say never!”;;



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