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Anyone who’s been watching the Middle East’s F&B sector over the past few years can testify to the boom seen in its cloud kitchens domain, especially through the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. And as someone who has launched, operated, and managed over 200 restaurants across India and Oman over the past 25 years, jumping on the cloud kitchen bandwagon came with a renowned sense of purpose for Aankush Bhatia. Indeed, that’s what led to the launch of KitchenomiKs, his Oman-based foodtech and cloud kitchen enterprise.
“KitchenomiKs was born out of the desire to reimagine the restaurant business- I’d like to call this ‘Restaurant V2.0,’ basically meaning innovation with a purpose with ‘V1.0’ being the traditional brick-and-mortar dine-in restaurants,” Bhatia explains. “I’ve been a restaurateur all my life, and the challenge has always been how to scale the business into multi-units in a short time with a low investment cost. Post-pandemic, especially, the restaurant industry has been in a flux- razor-thin margins, limited capacity, and high capital investment to scale and grow are just a few of the challenges we, the restaurant owners, faced. So, with KitchenomiKs, my vision is to create the largest and fastest growing multi-brand restaurant chain without any dining space in the region.”
Launched in March 2022, KitchenomiKs offers restaurants and food brands the opportunity to scale (without any capital investments) through turnkey delivery solutions that help with the preparation, distribution, and expansion of food concepts. “We are creating a hybrid foodtech model offering its own virtual brands through our delivery hubs, providing a kitchen-as-a-service platform to well-known brands, opening food courts and grab-and-go stores, as well as giving an opportunity to local homegrown foodpreneurs to launch and scale their brands,” Bhatia says. “Kitchenomiks will also enable restaurants -from large international franchises to local businesses- to reach the growing food delivery market with a scalable solution that is backed with innovative technology.”
Apart from typical cloud kitchen offerings, services that incorporate food delivery models such as takeaway, drive-thru, grab-and-go, as well as the food court approach will serve as KitchenomiKs’ additional revenue streams, Bhatia adds. According to him, putting forth such a variety of services is key to not just transforming the on-demand food economy in Oman, but the quality of customer experiences too. We understand that taste buds are home-bred yet acquired, and so we as a community believe that there is something special each food brand brings to society,” Bhatia says. “We are thus complementing the ecosystem in the following ways: by introducing a low-cost, highly scalable business model that can go to market within 15 days, offering a wide variety of food verticals with a repertoire of culinary delights from global cuisine to delicious sweets and baked goodies, and optimizing operations and curating customer choices through a tech-enabled ecosystem.”
It’s good to note here that Bhatia is basing his operation out of a landscape that’s ripe with opportunityas per a February 2022 study by Statista, the F&B sector in Oman is expected to be worth US$1.8 billion by 2025. And with the country’s cloud kitchen sector still mildly nascent, Bhatia believes it is the right time to introduce KitchenomiKs. Already, the foodtech startup has partnered with Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre, a Muscat-based meetings and conferences venue, to operate state-of-the-art kitchen spaces spread over 3,000 sq.m. “This forms part of the strategic in-country value plan designed to contribute to the local economy and propel Oman to greater heights,” Bhatia reveals. “I believe Oman provides a massive opportunity in terms of the food delivery business, with a year-on-year growth of around 35%. Therefore, at KitchenomiKs, we are using technological innovation to provide the platform entrepreneurs and businesses need to deliver their product, services, and experiences locally and at scale.” But even as Bhatia stresses upon the importance of leveraging modern technology to better cater to customer preferences, he recalls how it was a value that he believed in way before foodtech became mainstream. “As an industry, hospitality has always been the pioneer in everything associated with the customer experience, and understanding customer tastes and choices,” he says. “Hospitality professionals learn to address customer needs on the go, and today, with technology, we all are simply better equipped to do so. My experiences over the last 25 years have helped me understand the nuances of customization and personalization. Hence, transformation is key!”
As cloud kitchens continue to gain prominence, however, the return of in-person dining cannot be overlooked. The return to normalcy in a post-pandemic world has, after all, enabled brick-andmortar restaurants to be up and running again. But Bhatia doesn’t appear to be too fazed by this occurrence. “KitchenomiKs is not here to compete with the regular restaurant business, but complement them by partnering with them and becoming their exclusive delivery partners by way of helping them create food that is deliverable,” he says. “We will help the restaurant owners to scale with no capital investment required, help them leverage their brand equity, and unlock exponential sales potential.” But Bhatia’s also quick to point out that the future of the F&B industry as we know it has changed for certain. “Today consumers want taste, speed, and quality at an affordable price, and that’s what cloud kitchens provide along with their delivery partners,” he adds. “I’m not saying dining out will totally die; restaurants do provide an experience that we all enjoy and will continue to. But cloud kitchen as a business model -that seemed marginal before the coronavirus pandemic- now looks like the future of restaurants.”
So what’s his advice to budding entrepreneurs in this changed F&B ecosystem? “I would like to say don’t shy away from dreaming big and bold; that’s how KitchenomiKs was also born!” he declares. “But some of the key considerations to keep in mind include: understanding the unique local culture, tastes, and preferences; learning how to build strong partnerships and collaborations; and finally, focusing on unit economics to make the business model profitable.” As for Bhatia’s own operation, he has already raised a pre-seed round of $1.7 million from local individual investors to kickstart operations, and he is already in talks with potential investors for another funding round. “This round will help us in supporting our operational growth plan in Oman and expansion into the identified regional markets,” he explains. “The investor sentiment based on our initial traction has been tremendous as we provide an opportunity to scale.”
All these plans, of course, are targeted towards the startup’s next phase of growth. “KitchenomiKs has an ambitious plan in Oman, and by the beginning of 2023, we shall be adding 20 kitchen delivery hubs, and a total of 50 by the end of next year, making us the largest player in Oman,” Bhatia says. “As we get to Q2 of 2023, we will proceed with our growth and expansion plans in the rest of the GCC. The aim is to spread the delight of food delivery across the region!”