As his stomach rumbled in hunger, Sourav Shahin couldn't hold back the nostalgia of the food his mom used to cook for him back at home. Scrolling through his phone, he tried to decide where to order his lunch from when he remembered an ad he had seen on Facebook a week before.
‘Deshio’ is a cloud kitchen that started its business with the tagline: “If you’re missing Ammu’s cooking, we got your back.” This first-year student, studying at Dhaka University, missed the taste of homemade food so much that he decided to give Deshio a try.
Just like Sourav, thousands of people across Bangladesh are warming up to the idea of ordering from cloud kitchens every day. After having tried the food from the ‘ghost kitchen’ in Dhaka, Sourav claimed that this was fresher and healthier than that of typical brick-and-mortar restaurants.
“Honestly, it doesn’t compare to my mom’s food, but it does have a distinct taste of fresh homemade food.”
The mere fact that businesses like Deshio or Dough on the Go are gaining popularity in Bangladesh despite the lack of physical dine-in space, something which is a definite characteristic of cloud kitchens, proves that there must be something special about the food that makes people come back for more.
Over the years, people have learnt to incorporate the different cuisines from around the world with their own. Staying true to this culture, the cloud kitchens, often referred to as ghost kitchens, offer an array of cuisines.
Another unique feature that differentiates them from the traditional forms of restaurants is that their menus tend to be dynamic. The owners often change the menus according to the season, cultural events or even according to contemporary food trends.
In fact, some shops who wish to offer a variety in local food items such as rice meals or curries decide to switch up their menus on different days of the week just to make sure people don’t have to eat the same item every day. This idea of cloud kitchens resonates with a home kitchen.
For students like Sourav who live away from home and aren’t able to cook for themselves, cloud kitchens offer comfort food at relatively affordable prices. Albeit, most people who try the food claim they like it for how it tastes and not because they think it's good enough quality for the price.
The Meat Shack is one such cloud kitchen based in Dhaka that strives to provide quality food at reasonable prices. Tanvir Rafi, the owner, is a student at the Institute of Business Administration at Dhaka University.
The Meat Shack is a team of 6 people who started the business simply out of their own love for food and wanting to do things their own way.
Reflecting on his concern with food quality, Tanvir said: “I believe both cloud kitchens and dine-in restaurants are able to maintain the same quality of food. Ultimately the quality of the food depends on the kitchen, and so we make sure that hygiene standards are maintained in the kitchen.”
Well, even though the work itself is fulfilling, there are hurdles in the way. Sourcing of raw materials at prices low enough to maintain a decent profit margin is still an issue for such businesses, shared Tanvir. Another major challenge that he has apparently faced is to maintain profitability despite high commission rates from the online delivery platforms they partner with.
However, the support of these delivery platforms such as Foodpanda, Pathao, and Shohoz Food is still essential to the overall business model of cloud kitchens today. Tanvir appreciates the effort of these food delivery platforms regarding quality maintenance.
The concept of cloud kitchens is by no means a recent discovery. In 2020, Foodpanda initiated the launch of over 50 cloud kitchens on their platform. With lockdowns and social distancing regulations in place, online delivery platforms had a very busy year.
“One of the best things about cloud kitchens is that their foods are less oily and less spicy, more hygienic than the most,” shared Rafiz Imtiaz, a freelance wedding photographer from Dhaka’s Khilgaon area.
Those who eat food from hotels and restaurants for a long time suffer from various digestion and nutrition problems, shares Rafiz. Constipation, frequent food poisoning, gas issues, etc. are common among the bachelors who don’t cook. Cloud kitchens seem to have come as a relief for them.
“Consumption of too much oil and spice caused me a lot of troubles in the past 3 years. I am now slowly getting back to normal digestion, thanks to the homely cloud kitchen foods. Fancy taste and aroma are secondary, the first priority is food being hygienic and that’s where these kitchens are winning.”
Cloud kitchens on food delivery platforms and Facebook are increasing fast. This is positive and if they can hold their quality according to the consumers’ preference, it is good news for all of us since restaurants will rethink their cooking to fight the stiff competition from cloud kitchens.
The writer is a student at the Institute of Business Administration, University of Dhaka.
She can be reached at [email protected]