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Grain & Grit to Open Ghost Kitchen

Grain & Grit Collective, the Little Italy-based hospitality group, continues to break barriers in the local culinary world.

In 2018, the group launched the Little Italy Food Hall at the Piazza della Famiglia, making it one of the first food halls to open in San Diego. There, Grain & Grit not only manages various independently owned restaurants, but also a number of its own food places, which is unlike most standard food halls.

Now, in a pivot as a result of COVID-19, Grain & Grit Collective will open Eats by Sam at Seaport Village. Except, instead of being the single-concept, traditional American-style sit down restaurant it was originally planned to be, it is now a multi-concept virtual co-op partnership with longtime Grain & Grit collaborator Chef Sam Zien (aka “Sam the Cooking Guy” of television fame).

Comprised of several restaurant concepts, Eats by Sam will operate as a combined ghost kitchen and brick and mortar location, which has an ordering kiosk as well as outdoor seating, according to Grain & Grit CEO Mike DiNorscia. It will launch in a couple of weeks with two brands — Samburgers and Samwiches — followed by two more concepts before the end of the year.

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A ghost kitchen prepares meals for delivery.

Multi-Concept Ghost Kitchen

The idea to pivot from a single-concept restaurant to a multi-concept ghost kitchen came to DiNorscia almost two months ago. What prompted him to go in the unique direction was his fascination with the ghost kitchen business and the effects of COVID-19 on the food industry.

“I’ve been following the ghost kitchen and cloud kitchen model for the last couple of years. It’s always been, conceptually, to put a commissary in a specific market and operate multiple brands, other people’s brands, out of it,” he said. “What we are doing is we are incubating our own concepts under the Eats by Sam umbrella. The idea is we can operate multiple concepts within this kitchen and do a large part of its business in deliveries.”

Alongside the food offerings, the 8,000 square foot eatery will offer a craft beer program, which will also be available for delivery and onsite.

Cut Better Deals

The ability to have multiple concepts under one roof gives Grain & Grit Collective the flexibility to cut better deals with landlords, said DiNorscia. The reason being it will consist of more than one restaurant generating multiple revenue streams in one location.

The strategic move to incubate a number of his own brands in one place was not only wise for this particular project at this particular time, but a novel approach that other operators might be able to adopt as well. DiNorscia believes this concept can help revolutionize the future of the food industry, not just in San Diego, but across the country.

“A big part of the reason I am excited about this is because of what I believe will be an opportunity within the real estate environment and market,” he said. “There will be a lot of available restaurant spaces, we believe, over the next year, based on the fallout of the pandemic. For landlords needing to turn the space around, this is a creative way to fill that space and potentially create even more revenue.”

Zien said the multi-concept business gives the company the opportunity to try out a concept they already hoped to delve into in the future.

“We have this giant restaurant in a location that is pretty dependent on conventions and hotel business, tourists and cruise ships,” he said. “Instead of sitting and crying about what a terrible mistake we made, we looked at what we had and said, ‘we had these ideas in our heads for a while, maybe not for this location, but we have the perfect opportunity to try them out and see what it can do.’”

Continue to Innovate

Down the line, when COVID-19 has been contained and things go back to some sense of normalcy, DiNorscia said he will most likely return Eats by Sam to the single-concept restaurant he originally planned. A less likely scenario — but one he might go after — is to continue to run the restaurant and the ghost kitchens concurrently from the one location.

“The beauty of the new model is that it can be run while, at the same time, running the traditional restaurant,” he said. “It can be both with supplemental revenue streams, and who wouldn’t want that?” n

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