Foodservice

Circle K Owner Among Ghost Kitchen Investors

Kitchen United will use $100 million to add locations, expand use of its technology
Kitchen United exterior
Photograph courtesy of Kitchen United

LAVAL, Quebec — Alimentation Couche-Tard, owner of Circle K convenience stores, is an investor in a $100 million fundraising effort by ghost kitchen and restaurant hub technology provider Kitchen United.

Other investors include Burger King parent Restaurant Brands International (RBI) and grocery giant Kroger. Simon Property Group and former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning also participated in the Series C round, as did several current investors including GV, the venture capital arm of Google parent Alphabet.

“We see many commercial opportunities in partnering with Kitchen United as it prepares for considerable scale,” said Kevin Lewis, chief marketing officer for Laval, Quebec-based Alimentation Couche-Tard. “We believe this business stands apart from other industry players with its centralized locations, multiformat offerings, experienced management team and mature technology stack—all of which align with Circle K’s mission to make our customers’ lives a little easier every day as we work together to shape the future of convenience.”

The investment brings Pasadena, Calif.-based Kitchen United’s total fundraising to $175 million and should add considerable momentum to its exponential growth over the past year. Since summer 2021, the company has grown its footprint by more than threefold, from six locations to 21 and counting.

Kitchen United’s kitchen hubs, known as Kitchen United Mix, allow operators to rent space and sell food with the help of a proprietary technology system. Created as a way for restaurants to offload off-premise volume, the hubs have evolved into a growth vehicle for small and medium-sized brands. Kitchen United also has begun to embrace more of a food hall model, with pickup and even dine-in featured at some locations.

“Kitchen United uniquely sits at the intersection of technology, food and real estate,” CEO Michael Montagano said. “To that end, we are thrilled to partner with leading investors across grocery, convenience, restaurants, malls, packaging, logistics, distribution, automation and urban and suburban real estate development.”

Two new Kitchen United investors—Kroger and mall owner Simon—have already played a big role in its growth. The company has kitchen hubs in Kroger stores and has put its Mix system to work in Simon malls, paving the way for potentially hundreds of future KU outlets.

Other investors appear interested in using Kitchen United’s technology, if not its actual kitchens. Kitchen United OS, in place at all of Kitchen United’s facilities, lets customers order from multiple restaurants on a single ticket and synchronizes the timing so all the food is ready at once. As part of the cash infusion, the company said it will be “evolving” the system for use by Burger King and Popeyes and other chains such as Chick-fil-A, Portillo’s, Panera Bread, Dog Haus, Wingstop and Chili’s parent Brinker International.

Kitchen United said it will continue to focus on its core markets of Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Texas, though it also has locations planned for Ohio and Florida. Its website lists nearly 30 outlets that are either in operation or “coming soon.”

“The rising trend of off-premises dining presents a major growth opportunity for the ghost kitchen sector, and Kitchen United is uniquely positioned for significant expansion in the years ahead,” said David Krane, CEO of GV.

Couche-Tard’s 26-country global network includes approximately 9,300 c-stores in North America, with more than 7,100 in the United States under the Circle K and Holiday Stationstores banners in 48 states, and approximately 2,100 in Canada under the Circle K, Mac’s and Couche-Tard banners. In Europe, under the Circle K and other banners, Couche-Tard operates a retail network in Scandinavia, Ireland, Poland, the Baltics and Russia including more than 2,700 stores and unmanned automated fuel stations.

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