INDIANAPOLIS — While corporate-owned restaurants are held to the same standards as small family-owned restaurants, the mom and pop spots have been at a disadvantage as more people rely on apps and delivery services for dinner.
"They were not ready for that. So, you saw people disappear and close down and you saw other people get an influx of sales and not know what do, how to handle it," said Jazmine Long.
After witnessing that disadvantage, local non-profit group Be Nimble is launching an accelerated program called "The Melon Kitchen" to teach small restaurant owners how to run a delivery-only business from what is called a "ghost kitchen." Program director Jazmine Long describes the concept as a restaurant where the customers never steps foot inside.
"Places who did not have ghost kitchens are building ghost kitchens. Something is happening where people want the food, and they want it now. To be able to order McDonald's to your front door, without going through the drive through. It's happening, the transition is already here. We're not going back now that people are used to getting their food just like that!" said Long.
The program will set up shop at 16 Tech on Indiana Avenue, allowing chef's and business owners to launch their delivery service under the guidance of professionals who know how to run a restaurant and have experience with the technology required to run a delivery service -- think Uber Eats or Doordash. The kitchen's location in a historically Black neighborhood and the name "Melon Kitchen" reflects the communities Be Nimble is trying to help.
"Melon, melanin, melon, watermelon, it's us, you know. All the vibrant things that make us, us," said Long, he says the program is open to everybody, but the heart of mission is to help black and brown business owners catch up and compete with the big chains and corporations.
"That is because we are naturally and historically under-represented in things like this. When you are combining tech plus food, that is something that we have never been privy to doing. We've been doing the grunt work, the bootstrap work but not combined with something of that size," said Long.
Proceeds from Indy's annual Pardi Gras ball, which of course will be different this year, serves as the fundraiser for participants who will receive financial backing to launch their delivery-only restaurant.
The Melon Kitchen is set to launch on March 1, 2021. Applications to get in the program are being accepted right now. You can find the application here: https://www.melon.kitchen/