The epicenter of dark kitchens
If the phenomenon is already well established in Brussels, then in the municipality of Ixelles we find the largest number of ghost establishments. Strategic central location, young audience and large population per square meter, these are the reasons why Brussels Municipality is the center of dark kitchens.
It is also in one of the main arteries of the European region I have an appointment. At the back of a lovely old building, in a charming little courtyard, is a kitchen like no other…or rather four kitchens. Thomas Gendry begins visiting the site; He works for Kumo Kitchens, which explores spaces in the capital with the aim of converting them into kitchens and renting them out to establishments looking for ghost kitchens. “Previously, this building housed a catering service. We have converted it into four kitchen units, each measuring between 15 and 20 square metres. There are two types of dark kitchen profiles.
First, these are establishments with a really strong brand in another Belgian city. They come from Antwerp, Ghent or Namur and try to set up their cuisine in Brussels. For others, they are chefs who do not yet have an establishment and would like to test their concept without making large investments. Half of these restaurants have the ultimate goal of opening a restaurant in the capital, and the other half instead seek to focus on delivery. »Common cold room, compact but comfortable kitchen, perfectly arranged units: everything has been thought to optimize the space and allow four virtual restaurants to coexist.
From Japan to Lebanon
At about 4:30 p.m., the teams begin preparing their work plan. Near the entrance is Mission Masala, an Antwerp-based concept lauded by Gault & Millau critics, which offers Indian specialties and colorful burgers inspired by the flavors of Bombay. Their goal was to test their kitchen to the public in Brussels and it looks like the mission has already been a huge success as they are looking for a physical address to set up their new restaurant. Behind sushi chef Mi prepares his vegetables. This concept of sushi, donpuris and bouquet, does not have a fixed restaurant. Installed since the fall, he wants to expand his delivery network. Furthermore, two brands share a kitchen unit, SumSum and Sumac, two concepts that Raphaël Helsmoortel has imagined. Inspired by his many travels, this former trader launched six establishments in Antwerp. SumSum specializes in dim sum and bao, while SumSum offers Lebanese street food. With his appreciation for Mediterranean and Asian flavors, he developed recipes that he then delegates to chefs. His goal is clearly to open a restaurant in Brussels, but without closing his dark kitchen. “There is a huge market for takeout and delivery because we don’t go to restaurants every day. All of my restaurant concepts were also designed for delivery because I knew this segment was going to grow. Delivery and casual fast food in general is experiencing significant growth, a trend that has accelerated with the pandemic.
5:30 p.m., time for first orders. Although Wednesday is supposed to be a quiet day, we feel the teams are preparing to shoot. 80% of orders are placed between 6pm and 8:30pm. “You have to be on top every day. Delivery has to be fast and the dishes are of consistent quality, it’s a daily stress. In a restaurant, it’s a completely different experience, the service is there to make the customer wait. Good communication with the server can improve our feelings and make us forget an ordinary dish.” This is not the case with delivery. The customer wants it to be served as quickly as possible and will not hesitate to write down his order »Raphael explains. These ratings are important because customer satisfaction is one of the factors that determines mention of these establishments on sites like Uber Eats. Oversights, too slow delivery, or poor grades: It doesn’t take much for an organization to be penalized with lower quality references. The latter is an important point for brands because the higher it appears at the top of searches, the more likely your dishes will reach the virtual consumer basket…
From recipe composition to container, dishes have been studied to deliver the perfect delivery experience. Despite the small size of the kitchens, the staff work in perfect synergy and never seem to be at each other’s “feet”. On the sumac side, Isaac watched the oven carefully. “At 400 ° C, we put the bread in it until it is slightly toasted”This is what a young Afghani who has lived in Belgium for twelve years says. Versatile and a food lover, the young man worked in various HORECA establishments before arriving at Sumac Kitchens. Like his three colleagues, he moves from one job to another to prepare Lebanese specialties. Present for several months, he didn’t even look back at the detailed recipes hanging in the fridge.
It’s 6:30 p.m., orders are speeding up, teams are concentrated. Even if the day is calm, the room temperature rises and the smells of cooking from all over the world caress my nostrils. The beloved aromas of curries, spices and burgers waft on this Mission Masala griddle. On the sumac side, the aroma of thyme, grilled chicken and kofta can be felt. Only the Sushi Me station doesn’t emit any particular smells, but considering it’s fresh sushi and fish, that’s a very good sign!