- WOWorks has partnered with Combo Kitchen, a franchise system that links operators with restaurant concepts within its system that can be operated as ghost kitchens, according to a press release. Combo Kitchen plans to grow Saladworks and Frutta Bowls at a rate of five to seven locations monthly through 2021.
- As part of the partnership, Combo Kitchen launched its first Saladworks location on April 10 in Miami. Last week, it also rolled out Saladworks locations in New York City and Jersey City, New Jersey. In the first two months of the partnership, Saladworks signed for 14 initial locations.
- This expansion comes less than a month after Saladworks partnered with Ghost Kitchen Brands to open 60 nontraditional locations in the U.S. and 30 in Canada. Most of these kitchens will be located inside Walmart stores, building on its grocery store expansion strategy. In August, Saladworks also teamed with Chowbotics.
WOWorks' two-pronged approach to nontraditional expansion — through ghost kitchen providers and grocery retailers — comes as the broader restaurant industry emerges from the pandemic crisis hungry for off-premise opportunity. The segment's future hinges on meeting diners where they're at to provide frictionless, convenient experiences, and growing via existing brick-and-mortar locations can help restaurants scale quickly and at a reduced cost.
"Saladworks and Frutta Bowls can experience exponential growth while Combo Kitchen handles all franchise sales, royalty collections and other operational responsibilities," Combo Kitchen CEO Hossein Kasmai said in a press release. "Restaurant operators boost their revenue with the incorporation of a recognized and established brand, while consumers can take advantage of new flavors being brought to their area."
Combo Kitchen pursued Saladworks and Frutta Bowls because they are well-known brands. It finds diners are "more reluctant to order online without access to customer reviews, established social media pages or other forms of consumer feedback that virtual brands inherently lack." In late March, WOWorks Chief Marketing Officer Mark Mears told Restaurant Dive that WOWorks is testing a virtual brand concept at Saladworks. Though Combo Kitchen doesn't currently work with virtual concepts, according to the press release, Saladworks could build out this revenue stream on its own.
Combo Kitchen's planned expansion pace for Saladworks and Frutta Bowls is aggressive, but the model should be enticing to operators looking to boost sales without making a brick-and-mortar investment or developing their own virtual-only brand.
Ghost kitchen locations and nontraditional units are gaining traction with other restaurant brands, as well. Nathan's Famous announced a deal with Ghost Kitchen Brands Monday to open 100 nontraditional locations in the U.S. and Canada by the end of 2021, many of which will be housed in Walmart locations.