Underused Canadian parking lots doubling as restaurants

by Neil Sharma on 24 Jun 2021

As cities change, there’s a slew of underutilized properties, and a technology company is working with their landlords to open neighbourhood kitchens across North America.

REEF Technologies is focusing on using parking lots to essentially curate goods, and it already has over 5,000 locations and 15,000 employees under its continent-wide umbrella. In Canada, it’s opened over a dozen neighbourhood kitchens in Toronto and it has strong presences in Calgary and Edmonton. The company is in the process of expanding into Montreal and Vancouver.

“We repurpose underutilized urban spaces; in Canada it’s parking locations to see how we can spur more economic activity on these spaces to effectively bring consumers closer to goods and services,” said Morva Rohani, head of public affairs at REEF Canada. “This makes our cities more efficient from the perspective of business expansion and urban development, and it also helps cities better meet growing demand for the delivery of goods and services. We use the power of proximity to leverage underutilized urban land to put more economic activity on top of those spaces so there’s added value for businesses and for communities.”

The company provides the infrastructure so that landlords, with whom it has management agreements, aren’t saddled with upfront costs and it provides expertise, too.

“We also bring the operational resources and capital investment in order to unlock applications on the land,” continued Rohani. “Everyone is our employee. In the case of neighbourhood kitchens, we hire real chefs and people from the restaurant industry because we’re part of the restaurant industry ourselves.”

Although it primarily focuses on parking lots, the company is interested in all types of traditional commercial real estate to, as Rohani says, unlock applications and stimulate additional economic activity.

“In Canada, all of our sites are parking lots and they’re the primary type of real estate we currently occupy, but we’re looking at underground to surface lots and a lot of non-traditional spaces like plazas and alleyways,” she said. “There’s also our marketing engine behind a lot of these brands and platforms, so we’re unifying and building an ecosystem in the backend to build a flywheel and grow our user base. The technology is the whole platform.”

REEF onboards the restaurants and devises their menus while handling the logistics of connecting with consumers.

“In the Canadian context, considering that the majority of businesses are in the neighbourhood kitchen space, there’s been opportunity through the rapid expansion of delivery,” said Rohani. “A lot of restaurants have doubled down since we started.”

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