Commercial kitchen coworking space Colony grows restaurants with no dining room required
11419 Santa Monica Blvd.,
Brick and mortar restaurants with traditional dining rooms across Los Angeles are doing their best to pivot to delivery or pickup business models as they adapt to the city’s “Safer at Home” emergency order issued on March 19 in response to the spread of COVID-19. But for some, delivery and pickup are already baked into their design.
In West LA, several restaurant businesses, including big names like Canter’s Deli and Trejo’s Tacos, are continuing to provide food options out of Colony — a workspace for chefs and food startups, with separate “smart” commercial kitchens, each ranging from 200 to 400 square feet. Restaurateurs contract with third-party delivery services, such as Uber Eats, Grubhub and DoorDash. Most services operate within a three- to five-mile range, or customers can pick up their orders. The kitchens share one dine-in lobby (where service is currently suspended as a result of coronavirus restrictions).
Located at 11419 Santa Monica Blvd., close to the 10 and 405 Freeways, Colony serves a sizeable residential and corporate population. Because the kitchens are rented, the up-front investment and other costs are lower, so a restaurant can be launched more nimbly and less expensively than the traditional model, proponents say.
A case in point is Bowlila, a new eatery launched earlier this month by celebrity chefs-entrepreneurs Badr Fayez and Adlah Al-Sharhan. The name is a play on traditional balila — a popular Middle East mezze dish consisting of warm chickpeas that have been cooked and simmered in a rich broth. Bowlila’s plant-based, gluten-free bowls are made to order with chickpeas (or edamame)
as the base.
The bowls are topped with homemade, dairy-free sauces and fresh, flavorful ingredients reflecting global cuisines, such as Italian, Japanese, Persian and Moroccan — all of which were standouts at a recent tasting.
Lizz Bommarito, operations manager at Bowlila, says business has been good, adding that the concept didn’t have a giant dine-in component to begin with.
“Our product is definitely accessible to people and I’m confident we’ll be able to reach our audiences [including] younger people living away from home for the first time,” says Bommarito.
Another advantage of Colony is that the kitchens can be staffed with one or two employees. A smaller environment that’s easier to control can help businesses stay extra vigilant about cleanliness. Safeguards include: preshift temperature checks for employees, scrubbing hands, wearing gloves, carefully sealing delivery packages and frequently sanitizing surfaces.
“Nothing is touched by an ungloved person,” says Adam Weiss, one of the lead investors in plant-based Honeybee Burger, which started a Colony operation in early March. The original (bricks and mortar) location in Los Feliz has seen an uptick in delivery business since the dining room recently closed.
Says Weiss: “We’ve done well in Los Feliz and we thank our customers for their support. We started up at the Colony because none of the [third-party delivery] apps could get our food west of the 405 and lots of people work at home on the Westside.”
With even more people cocooned inside, demand could climb, but Weiss isn’t counting on that: “We’ve established a great brand and if we can get through to people, we’re good to go. If not, who knows?”
Of course, during stressful times, many people turn to familiar food that nourishes the soul as well as the body. Jacqueline Canter, of family-owned and -operated Canter’s Deli — a longtime Los Angeles favorite — points out that Canter’s comfort food has helped Angelenos through past hardships, such as the 1992 riots and the Northridge earthquake.
Says Canter: “People are waiting in line out the door at Ralphs to buy toilet paper, but they are still hungry and they still have to have their matzo ball soup.”
To spur business, several Colony vendors are offering discounts and promotions, so be sure to check online before placing an order.