Ordermark CEO Alex Canter: Ghost Kitchens and the Evolution of the Restaurant Industry

On this episode of The DroidDevCast podcast, Esper Platform Evangelist Rin Oliver sat down with Alex Canter, CEO at Ordermark, and Esper COO Shiv Sundar to discuss the evolution of the restaurant industry, ghost kitchens, and the importance of bringing new technology and logistics into the restaurant ordering and management experience. As a fourth-generation owner of the famous Jewish Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles, Canter focused his energies on not only incorporating new technology into the restaurant, but in unifying the order experience via third-party delivery options such as Uber Eats, GrubHub, and Doordash. Using these systems – which were designed independently – spawned the idea for what is now known as Ordermark, a unified, single source of truth that manages all incoming orders to a restaurant kitchen, regardless of the third-party delivery system used to place the order. Ordermark has also created Nextbite, a platform which allows restaurants to use their underutilized kitchen space to create a virtual brand and dining experience for customers that is delivery-only. 

Re-Imagining the Online Ordering Experience

Managing a kitchen of any size can be hectic. Canter explains that his team originally had, “Nine tablets, two laptops, and a fax machine in the family business just to manage all those incoming orders, and it was kind of a disaster and an operational nightmare.” In order to re-imagine and re-invent the online order management system and experience, Canter envisioned a single-source-of-truth as the key to success. Not only did restaurants need a single system to manage these incoming orders, they also needed a single, unified menu, and a single control point through which they could access this information. Ordermark began first at Canter’s, where it immediately found a market fit, and has now scaled to support over 5,000 restaurants across the United States, ranging in size from large, enterprise kitchens down to small, local kitchens operating at a smaller scale. 

With the Covid-19 pandemic persisting throughout 2020, many brick-and-mortar restaurants have had to quickly pivot to online ordering in order to stay afloat. Canter noted that this change is not dissimilar to the shift from traditional businesses to e-commerce, where customers now seek out an online experience as their first point-of-contact with a business, rather than an in-person option. “The same thing is kind of happening in the restaurant world. So when people are hungry now, instead of getting in their car and going to a restaurant, they open up one of the many online ordering apps browse through and choose their lunch to be delivered to them. And that really opens up this whole new wave and opportunity to create virtual brands that only exist on these online ordering services that don’t have any physical brick and mortar business and location, and service a different category of consumers,” said Canter.

Restaraunt Industry Transformation in Light of Covid-19

Canter highlighted the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic as creating a pivotal shift in how restaurants operate, ushering in a change which may have originally stretched out over a period of years, has now been sped up to take place over the last few months. “COVID has definitely accelerated 10 years of advancement in a matter of months, I would say,” noted Canter. Restaurants are now diversifying into  multiple brands operating out of the same kitchen, using the same overhead and staff to create multiple offerings to serve different categories of customers. 

Another example of rapid change that occurred is with  office catering. Where daily catered lunches were once commonplace in many offices, these offerings are now changing and in some cases, being eliminated entirely. Canter went on to explain that one area which is now here to stay is that restaurants are now offering an off-premise dining solution and experience. Whether that is through creating pre-packaged, frozen meals that customers can have delivered contactlessly, or through unique approaches to food distribution in their neighborhoods, the off-premise restaurant is now here to stay. “If you would have told me that there were coffee shops selling a dozen eggs, I would have told you that it probably would not happen, but now that’s happening everywhere. Every restaurant is kind of turning into this local grocery store market offering to support the local community. And I think that moving forward, that will continue to remain the new normal,” said Canter.

The Introduction and Evolution of Ghost Kitchens

One of the ways that Ordermark has continued to create value for its restaurant customers is to continually evolve, and shift the needle in generating incremental revenue. To do so, Ordermark introduced Nextbite, a ghost kitchen system which allows restaurants with under-utilized kitchens to create new and exciting virtual brands offering delivery only. These incremental gross sales often result in thousands of dollars of additional revenue to kitchens that may have been struggling during the pandemic. The virtual brand concept has been so successful that it also presented Ordermark with its first celebrity partnership. “In October, we launched our first celebrity partnership with the rapper Wiz Khalifa to build a concept called Hotbox by Wiz, which has been very effective in driving that incremental order volume to our restaurants that need those orders. And I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had a restaurant tell us, you know, you’re, you’re literally keeping our doors open with these extra orders right now. And that, that makes it all worth it and satisfying,” said Canter. 

Canter went on to explain that ghost kitchens are, at their core, not about building additional restaurant retail space, but about leveraging the often underutilized space that a commercial kitchen already has available. Canter’s deli itself also made use of the ghost kitchen as a tool, launching a grilled cheese sandwich brand that increased their orders by 25 or 30 more per day using the same staff and overhead they had already allocated. This was profitable, incremental order volume that was layered into the same kitchen that was already operating. While many restaurants  are often only making 10% profit on their orders, adding in virtual kitchens and ordering experiences can in many cases lead to a 20% or even  30% increase in revenue. Canter encouraged local restaurants to experiment with virtual branding, taking care to note the zip codes in which they are delivering. This allows the restaurant to create new virtual dining and ghost kitchen options to serve their customers who may not be in the mood for the kitchen’s main culinary offering on any given day. 

“If you are a restaurant that is looking to kind of turbocharge your kitchen, we’ve got a whole suite of products and services that will help you do that. You know, some restaurants are already slammed and very busy and don’t need extra orders. So, if you’re operating and happy with revenue, and how busy your restaurant is, maybe there’s a line out the door. We might not be the best fit, but if you’re a restaurant that is looking for ways to handle more out of your same kitchen, that’s what we are experts at. That’s what we’re in the business of. And that’s what we focus on when we work with restaurants.”

In this Episode of The DroidDevCast: 

00:40 – Ordermark’s journey over the last few years
03:18 – The inspiration for creating Ordermark
05:27 – What are the food delivery and restaurant trends that will continue even after the Covid-19 pandemic?
08:12 – What was the message that resonated with restaurant owners?
13:01 – What are the benefits of having a ghost kitchen, and what are they
16:37 – Words of advice for our listeners that may be in the restaurant industry as to why they should check out Ordermark

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