Singapore tycoon to open 1,000 cloud kitchens globally

Bid to crack food delivery market estimated to rake in $100 billion worldwide by 2027

With restaurants either shuttered or reopening with vastly reduced capacity and people staying home as second-wave outbreaks erupt, demand for food delivery services has exploded.

Now Mr Kishin R.K., the 36-year-old heir to a multibillion-dollar Singapore property empire, is joining the fray, creating a network of 1,000 cloud kitchens across Asia, Europe and the United States to crack the lucrative home-delivery dining market.

Globally, cloud kitchen revenue is estimated to climb to almost US$72 billion (S$100 billion) by 2027 from US$43 billion last year, according to Allied Market Research.

Also known as dark or shared kitchens, these centralised operations can pump out an array of cuisines for established restaurants looking to broaden their delivery footprint, or for brands that exist nowhere else but behind an app.

They have become the go-to model for food delivery companies looking to sidestep the costs of running traditional restaurants with seating and waiters, and can be located in cheaper premises like business parks rather than operate as high-street stores.

"The investment into cloud kitchens is an opportunity to look at real estate with a different lens and create revenue from a space which may not be as relevant any more," said Mr Kishin, who founded TiffinLabs with three partners early last year, naming it after the Indian lunches delivered by India's army of so-called dabbawalas.

Mr Kishin runs RB Capital, a privately owned property firm which, together with his father Raj Kumar's Royal Holdings, owns 13 office towers, malls and hotels in Singapore, including the recently refurbished 225-room InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay.

That has left the family, which has an estimated net worth of about US$3 billion, exposed to the city state's struggling economy. Gross domestic product shrank by a record last quarter, when much of the city was shut down to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Mr Kishin, who declined to comment on the family's wealth, is trying to crack a crowded market.

Panda Selected dominates in China, Deliveroo plans to expand its "Editions" dark-kitchen concept in Europe, while Zuul and Kitchen United are major players in the US. Uber Technologies' former chief executive Travis Kalanick funded City Storage Systems, which runs dark kitchens and last year reached a US$5 billion valuation.

TiffinLabs will take a slightly different approach. It will rent kitchens in restaurants and those used by catering firms - inclusive of a revenue-sharing deal - then roll out its own brands like Publico Pasta Bar and Huraideu Korean Fried Chicken.

Mr Kishin says that while he will employ chefs and other kitchen staff, the beauty of it is that he can use one team to produce multiple cuisines, such as Italian, Chinese and Indian, from a single site.

The first kitchen should open in the fourth quarter. TiffinLabs plans to have more than 30 restaurant concepts serving over 15 cuisines in at least 10 countries within the next 12 months, according to its website.

One area where Mr Kishin will not compete with established players is in actual delivery - instead preferring to partner existing platforms like Grab, Uber Eats and Foodpanda.

"I'm not moving away from my real estate business," he said. "I'm merely doing what is necessary to stay relevant and to move with the times."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2020, with the headline Singapore tycoon to open 1,000 cloud kitchens globally. Subscribe