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COVID-19 Innovations Series: Columbus’s New Cloud Kitchen

April 8, 2021

With COVID-19 rocking the food and beverage industry this past year, chefs had to get creative to keep generating revenue. Dwindling dine-in demand coupled with capacity limits resulted in trends like curbside pickup, contactless delivery, to-go drinks and virtual cooking classes. But the innovation hasn’t stopped there. New terms like ghost kitchen, cloud kitchen and virtual food hall have piqued the interest of foodies everywhere. We chat with Chef Chad Lavely, owner of four concepts in Columbus’s new Cloud Kitchen, to clear up what this new trend means for hungry customers. Read on to discover his culinary background and what prompted him to take the plunge into this novel business model. 

Please tell us about your culinary career path. What has influenced your cooking style and how would you describe it?

I loved to help cook when I was young! And I grew up in a great local restaurant. It was while there, at the Refectory, that I joined the apprenticeship program at Columbus State Community College. Prior to my decade-long tenure at the Granville Inn, I served as the founding Chef at Granville’s Short Story Brasserie and was Executive Chef for the Deer Creek Resort and Conference Center for 7 years. I have worked with and run kitchens for some local and national greats - like Carolyn Claycomb, Hartmut Handke, Hubert Seifert, and Roland Henin to name a few. My cooking style remains flexible, on a foundation rooted in European traditions from my mentors, and with attention to local and sustainably raised products.

What inspired you to be part of a cloud kitchen? How did COVID-19 affect your decision?

I have never been one to jump on ‘the bandwagon,’ but the timing was just right on several levels, including personal. Finding myself with a lot of time on my hands during the COVID-19 pandemic and learning about the cloud kitchen got the wheels turning. Then after receiving a gentle nudge last November, we are here.

Can you explain the concept of a cloud kitchen and how the multiple menus work together?

The Picket Fence Gastrodiner is a fully functioning restaurant without a dining room. Our kitchen is one of over 40 located in the newly opened Columbus Cloud Kitchen in the Milo-Grogan district of Columbus. The Picket Fence kitchen offers multiple concepts virtually to customers for pick-up or delivery. Customers can order directly via Facebook, on our website picketfencediner.com, or through their favorite delivery app. We offer multiple concepts to keep food fresh and moving because we do not skimp on the ingredients and our products are fresh and unprocessed.  Basically, we offer the consistency and quality you would expect from any professional chef’s kitchen or restaurant, delivered to your door. Our restaurant concepts are Picket Fence Gastrodiner, Chef’s Salad, Shai Sushi and Maria’s Quesadillas (coming soon).

How does choosing local and seasonal ingredients play into your menu planning and decision-making as a chef?

The bottom line is food allowed to grow on the “vine” until fully ripe will always taste better and is going to be the least modified and processed. Our goal at Picket Fence Gastrodiner is to use as many local and sustainable products as possible. Being a small business and not requiring huge amounts of items is going to give us greater flexibility and allow greater creativity once the local growing season starts.

It’s the end of a long shift and food-service is wrapping up. What is your go-to dish as a reward for all the hard work? 

You know, I try to eat healthy most of the time and follow a Mediterranean diet, but my mom cooked for 7 on a daily basis, and nothing makes me happier than those family staples. We grew up on chicken & noodles, spaghetti, meatloaf with mashed potatoes. But my guilty pleasure? Columbus is graced with some pretty darn good pizza kitchens! That and a good glass of wine, if I can stay awake long enough.

 

No matter the name you give them, these dining room-less culinary concepts are a cost-effective way for restauranteurs to survive in the modern climate. Saving on the cost of front of house staff and dishwashers, as well as renting or buying swanky real estate, furniture, décor and breakable dishes, these concepts offer a convenience many are looking for. Are they here to stay? Only time will tell.

 

Interview by: Marianna Marchenko