Alan Moore runs nearly 50 restaurants. Just a few years ago, this would mean millions of dollars invested in real estate, labor and other capital expenses, not to mention a complex operational strategy to keep things running smoothly. But in today’s day and age, this restaurant tycoon can oversee this myriad of brands with little more than a commercial kitchen, a strong marketing eye, and of course, a slew of delivery services that brings them to life.
“We created 4 brands 18 months ago and launched them. Burgers, tacos, pizza and the like. We came up with some cool names and launched them on Postmates and Doordash. That snowballed,” begins Moore, who not only runs these virtual restaurants but also commands a brick-and-mortar establishment, Cheebo in Hollywood. It was experimenting with the delivery platforms through Cheebo that led Moore to start these virtual brands and ultimately lead a consulting business for the space, Virtual Restaurant Consulting, with his brother, Paul.
“It’s a seismic shift and it’s consumer-led,” Moore said. The passion in his voice resonates through a thick English accent. “The delivery companies are taking over the whole world.”
He’s speaking to the rise of ‘virtual restaurants’ or restaurants that don’t actually sport dining rooms or even pick-up counters. Their physical presence is limited to a commercial kitchen space, and do 100% of their business through delivery platforms, such as Grubhub, Uber Eats, Postmates and DoorDash.
Moore sees virtual restaurants playing a pivotal role in the foodservice industry, and the delivery platforms completely changing the way that traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants structure their menus and operations.
“Running a virtual restaurant is no different than running a traditional restaurant, where you go to work everyday and nurture your business,” Moore said. “It’s not just creating a name and throwing it up on Postmates. You need to create the recipes, cost the menu, handle the photography, build it out of social media, and truly bring the virtual restaurant to life. You have to monitor sales, pull up product mix reports, look at your pricing. It’s not just fire and forget.”
But while complex, significantly lower up-front costs open the door to many aspiring restaurateurs looking to break into the field. And Moore has perfected the process of opening a virtual restaurant, to the point of creating a step-by-step guide for new and prospective owners.
“In 6 weeks, someone will come out with hands-on knowledge of exactly what needs to be done and will have 1 – 2 virtual restaurants ready for launch,” Moore said. He also noted that it was easier to manage multiple virtual restaurant brands rather than just one, claiming that a kitchen is better utilized when several concepts are online.
Virtual restaurants typically take an In-n-Out style approach, with hyper-focused menus that of revolve around a shortlist of core products. So instead of creating a single restaurant that serves burgers, fried chicken, sandwiches and mac ‘n’ cheese, you’d create four restaurants that specialize in each of those categories.
Of utmost importance, however, are several factors. Being transparent about the restaurant being a virtual restaurant, viewing delivery drivers as servers, and engineering your food for delivery are at the top of the list.
“You have to serve food that doesn’t just taste good out of the dining room, but also looks and tastes good after riding in the back of a Ford Fusion for 40 minutes,” Moore said. “Crispy fries will phase out. Crinkle-cut will become more popular because they stay good longer. We’re producing more spinach dishes than broccoli, because broccoli doesn’t last as long.”
This kind of engineering includes balancing beautiful photography and managing expectations.
“All the photography on the delivery platforms is on a plate, but course your food isn’t delivered on a plate…customers often feel like they’re getting less food than what they see in the picture, even though it’s the exact same amount. We’ve been playing around with how to package food so that customers are satisfied with portion sizes.”
Moore says the name of the game is high-margin items that deliver well. This formula helps mitigate the logistical challenges and costs of delivery.
“The old model of food costs of 30 – 35%, labor of 35 – 40%, etc. has gone out the window. A traditional restaurant is going to struggle working with the delivery apps,” Moore said. “Food cost and packaging together needs to be 22%.”
And it’s not just the cost structure that will change, in More’s view. He sees a future where in addition to virtual restaurants, brick-and-mortar restaurants will have entirely separate menus solely dedicated to delivery.
“Restaurant food wasn’t necessarily designed for delivery,” Moore said. “The restaurant will offer a menu for delivery that…will be designed differently and conceived differently.”
Find out more about Virtual Restaurant Consulting at VirtualRestaurantConsulting.com.
The Blind Pig attained regional acclaim in Rancho Santa Margarita for its flavorful twists on classic dishes. Now, Executive Chef Karl Pfleider and Bar Manager Ryan Autry have expanded their knack for new American flavor and artful execution to Yorba Linda, where the restaurant’s second location has been received with overwhelming praise. The place was popping—popping!—on a Sunday night, traditionally among the slowest times for a restaurant, demonstrating that The Blind Pig is satisfying a long-time local thirst for culinary novelty and innovation.
The new dining room is a big step up from the RSM location in terms of capacity, but plays to the same loose speakeasy theme, putting the bar at center stage amidst a surrounding perimeter of chic tables and comfortable booths. Servers have just enough room to maneuver between bargoers captivated by whatever game is playing on TV and high-energy groups reaching for the next small plate on the table. A lovely patio adds further seating and perhaps a quieter environment than the comradery taking place inside.
While the bar is the physical focus of The Blind Pig, Autry and his team have crafted a cocktail, beer and wine program to walk the walk. Pages and pages of artful cocktails, separated by different categories and cleverly labeled with flavor profiles to ensure patrons get exactly what they’re looking for, make up the majority of the leather-bound drink book (yes, it’s more of a book than a menu…quite a good read!). The socialite, made with vodka, aperol, strawberry rose, prosecco and lemon, lives up to its claim of ‘fruity and effervescent’ while the real Vinnie holds distinct sweetness to mask an otherwise potent bite. If you feel like splurging, the high roller cocktails are a fun venture into the unknown, with creations like the billionaire and ‘a damn good margarita’ bringing nuanced flavors.
The food menu is every bit as creative, with items like chicken lollipops and pork back ribs coming out with sauces that play with heat, sweet and tang in a way that holds onto each dish’s flavor foundation while deviating from the norm enough to raise eyebrows and beg the question of ‘what’s in this that I haven’t had before?’ Same goes for the short rib tacos, where Chef Pfleider has perfected the ability to inject every bit of umami flavor into those short ribs and compile them with a mystical combination of creamy, crunchy and hearty additives, served atop a perfectly robust tortilla. Then there’s the hot chicken, a trend that’s sweeping Southern California but one that The Blind Pig can own long after the fad is gone with its just-spicy-enough sauce, excellent crunch and sizeable Texas toast that it’s served on. And whatever you may order, pair it with a side of fries with heavenly garlic aioli or some killer kimchi fried rice.
If you have room for dessert, those melt-in-your-mouth churros served over rich panna cotta are sure to please. Or maybe you’ll cap the night with another one of those intricate cocktails.
The Blind Pig Yorba Linda is located at 4975 Lakeview Ave, Yorba Linda, CA 92886. Open 3 – 11p Mon – Wed, 3p – 12 midnight Thu, 3p – 1a Fri – Sat and 3 – 10p Sunday. Avg. out-the-door price for appetizer, entrée and 2 drinks is ~$90/person. For more information call (714) 485 – 2593 or visit TheBlindPigOC.com/Yorba-Linda
Five Crowns embodies a multi-layered network of history rarely found in any industry, and one that’s becoming harder and harder to come by in the restaurant world. On one end you have its parent, Lawry’s Restaurants, whose humble beginnings go back to the late 1800’s. Then you’ve got the nearly 100-year-old building that gives Five Crowns an ambiance that simply can’t be replicated, with a dizzying maze of dining niches, bars and beautiful yards that remind you that the property was once a private beachside mansion. And of course you’ve got the restaurant’s own timeline, dating back more than 50 years and embodying its namesake on multiple levels—Literally the fifth crown jewel of Lawry’s, conveniently located in Corona Del Mar, or the ‘crown of the sea.’
While Lawry’s in general has taken powerful steps in modernizing its restaurants, the timeless comforts that give a place like Five Crowns its livelihood remain as strong as ever. Dark wood trimmings, old-fashioned lanterns and the London phone booth outside cast a tone of unknown nostalgia, a perfect setup for your first step through the front door, where you’re taken back to a time you never remember experiencing. Walking through Five Crowns feels like a warm blanket has been placed over your shoulders, with fireplaces lining nearly every corner and jovial conversation dancing across seemingly endless pockets of tables. With bedazzled crowns ‘hidden’ along the old-style wallpaper and a canons hanging by chains from the ceiling, as well as a crowd dressing in everything from flip flops to fine suits, the restaurant embodies enough of a Disney ride to make things even more magical.
Five Crowns’ menu is as iconic as its ambiance. The prime rib that made Lawry’s famous is of course a staple here, masterfully prepared with creamy horseradish (not too spicy, don’t worry), succulent au jus and of course Lawry’s seasoned salt and pepper that may blow the minds of those unaware of the origins of the spice they see in the grocery store all the time (“Oh, that’s where it comes from!”). And Yorkshire pudding and mashed potatoes aside, to order the prime rib without creamed corn would be truly sinful.
Items like the beef bone marrow, with a hearty prime rib beef jam on top, showcase that Five Crowns is unquestionably keeping up with the times. Meanwhile, indulgences like rich lobster bisque and a buttery rack of lamb with wilted spinach and mint jelly demonstrate that this place has roots and is sticking to them. With decades of perfecting their craft, Five Crowns is too strong to shy away from their culinary foundation in favor of the next great food trend. This is a place where fans of classic fine dining will breathe easily and enjoy one dreamful bite after another.
While it’s hard to pass on such famous prime rib, you’ll be undoubtedly wowed by the steak. Five Crowns serves a ribeye for the books, finished with an excellent crust and eye-fluttering tenderness. Pair it, or anything on the menu, for that matter, with a fine wine or contemporary cocktail.
Then there’s dessert. That dark chocolate souffle is another piece of time-tested mastery, but the sticky toffee pudding should certainly be ordered alongside. You’ll thank yourself.
Five Crowns is located at 3801 East Coast Hwy, Corona Del Mar, CA 92625. Open 4:30 – 11p Mon – Sat, 4:30 – 10p Sun. Avg. out-the-door price for appetizer, entrée, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$130/person. For more information call (949) 760-0331 or visit LawrysOnline.com/Five-Crowns
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.