US based chef Rosana Rivera owns and operates two businesses with business partner Chef Ricardo Castro inside the Hall on Franklin food hall in downtown Tampa, Florida: Xilo Mexican, a restaurant reimagining Mexican cuisine, and Kofe, a quick service cafe serving freshly roasted beans. Recently, the culinary partners opened a dark kitchen, R2 Provisions. We had a chance to discuss how operations changed during the COVID pandemic, dark kitchen growth, and what to expect when restaurants are ready to reopen.
Rivera and Castro operated Xilo and Kofe in the food hall for about two years. “Maintaining a small staff in a trending food hall environment was a perfect recipe to be profitable and serve the food we wanted,” said Rivera.
“About six months ago, Ricardo and I were ready to take the next step,” she shared. “We felt the dark kitchen concept was going to start dominating the market and would generate better margins than your average restaurant operation.” They spent a few months researching the logistics, food processing protocols, reviewing code guidelines, revisiting permits. “The permit process did delay us from opening earlier, but we used that time to work behind the scenes and look at our infrastructure,” said Rivera. She and Castro dedicated that time to explore the ethos of R2 Provisions and what they wanted to accomplish with the new dark kitchen operation. By the time COVID hit, the two had already set the foundation for a successful dark kitchen. “We officially launched R2 Provisions the same week we closed Xilo,” she said.
ADAPTING TO A NEW AUDIENCE
Xilo and Kofe had been open for two years, and in that time gathered a loyal following of culinary enthusiasts. With the opening of R2, Rivera and team had to pivot from providing great guest experiences in their sites, to finding ways to bring the heart of the new concept into people’s homes.
“We’re marketing to a different kind of consumer than the one who walks through the door, “ Rivera noted.
“We’re marketing to a different kind of consumer than the one who walks through the door.“ – Chef Rosana
The kitchen space of R2 Provisions was initially going to allow the team to ramp up the catering and delivery side of their business. As the impact of COVID-19 spread across the globe, Rivera and Castro committed to moving faster and adapting with the market.
In the last few weeks, R2 Provisions became a digital marketplace with thoughtfully selected menu items from Xilo, alongside essential grocery items like flour and eggs and even gloves. Rivera said, “Right now, we’re dedicated to providing our customers a service, so if we’re delivering our bread, and they need gloves, we have access to them”. Rivera doesn’t foresee offering gloves for long, but will continue to do so as long as the demand is there.
Rivera is confident her delivery customers will develop loyalty for their homemade offerings, like Chef Ricardo’s sourdough bread and the infamous ‘Beat Bobby Flay’ empanadas. She noted, “We just started testing bread shipments, using our family in other states as guinea pigs, so hopefully we can add an e-commerce store for where we’re going.”
Moving from in restaurant dining to delivery is an excellent exercise in educating the consumer. “We already have a great following with our other operations, and on top of it all, we have our personal brands. We have utilised all of our channels to expose R2 Provisions to a broader audience,” said Rivera.
Learn more about Chef Rosana’s journey of operating a dark kitchen during COVID and how her team will adapt in site operations in part 2 of 2 of this blog series. Coming SOON!
Chef Rosana Rivera
Chef Rosana Rivera has been a successful entrepreneur and Chef in the Tampa Bay area for over 14 years. She is best known as one half of the successful team behind Piquant, a French–inspired bakery & cafe, which operated from 2006 to 2018 in West Tampa. In July 2018, Rivera and Chef Ricardo Castro opened Xilo Mexican at the Hall on Franklin in Tampa Heights. Currently, Chef Rosana is operating their first dark and catering kitchen in Clearwater, as well as working on other bricks and mortar concepts.
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