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Kitchen United Brings in $100M For New Locations
12:59 PM | July 25, 2022
Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.
Kitchen United is beefing up its service with a $100 million raise.
The company announced Monday that the Pasadena-based ghost kitchen company brought in the cash in a Series C funding round. The new funds bring Kitchen United’s overall financing to $175 million. New investors Kroger, Circle K, Simon Property Group, Phillips Edison, B. Riley Venture Capital, HAVI Group and Burger King owner Restaurant Brands International joined previous investors and former NFL star Peyton Manning to complete the round.
Kitchen United CEO Michael Montagano told Business Insider that the money will go towards increasing the company’s physical locations from 15 to 500 over the next five years. Previously, the company opened new locations through partnerships with investors Kroger and Simon Property Group.
Founded in 2017, Kitchen United is focused primarily on operating its 200 kitchens across California, New York, Illinois, and Texas. The company was an early entry in the booming ghost kitchen trend, which uses kitchens to prepare delivery-only meals. The pandemic boosted the business model’s popularity—and famed restaurateur Guy Fieri has stated that ghost kitchens are here to stay.
But the concept is changing, with many startups expanding beyond simply renting out locations. FooDoo is utilizing ghost kitchens to stock its microstores across Los Angeles. In 2019, Canter Deli’s Alex Canter launched NextBite, which partners restaurants with ghost kitchen brands to complete orders. Kitchen United, in particular, has repurposed mall food courts to allow shoppers to buy from multiple restaurants in one transaction.
Not all restaurant tech companies are thriving, with NextBite, for example, forced into downsizing in response to “changing markets.” Kitchen United’s sizable raise comes as some startup funding is drying up in the face of worsening economic conditions.
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05:00 AM | February 15, 2023
Photo: Rafi Lounge
Set in the foothills of Eastern Malibu across the street from Robert de Niro’s Nobu, the Rafi Lounge, a NFT-powered wellness center and coworking space, somehow looks like both a beachfront country club and a swank monastery. On a clear day, you can see Catalina Island across the ocean. The sign above the entrance says, “Welcome, please allow us to reintroduce you to yourself.”
Pushing through the braided rope entryway and passing a tranquil stone Buddha head waterfall, I arrived just after a yoga class former playboy model-turned “Dancing With the Stars” host Brooke Burke finished. The central open space that usually houses yoga mats or stationary bikes has been cleared off, and the giant projection screen behind the small stage is playing a tranquil plant video – an hour earlier, a larger-than-life Burke was on it helping clients “booty burn.”
The building – which used to belong to a venture capital firm – has been totally transformed to look like nature’s reclaimed it, dotted with lemon trees and cloaked in ornamental faux grass carpeting. Buddha statues are in every corner, some larger than five feet. On the way to one yoga room, there’s a small shop selling pricey essential oils, Rafi Lounge merch, and CBD gummies. On the wall of the shop hang three breathtakingly detailed portraits of indigenous peoples made by the founder with charcoal. There’s some construction ongoing, as they’re converting former corner offices into hot yoga saunas and a spa.
On the day of my visit, the place is bustling with staff who are lugging boxes of Himalayan salt panels to install in the hot yoga room. Israeli-born Kung-Fu master and former monk Rafi Anteby, the founder of the eponymously named space, tells me that after our chat he plans to paint them all black to match the walls. No detail is too small to notice, something evident in his Mandala work.
Rafi Lounge founder, Rafi Anteby, pictured here with his Mandala and sand collections. Photo: Rafi Lounge
The Rafi Lounge opened last year on November 10—the day before crypto exchange FTX went bankrupt. “Everyone said Rafi, go into a shutdown, don’t do it,” Anteby said. “I said I can't, because I pre-sold to members and I promised them [the launch is] what will happen.”
Still, Anteby felt he couldn’t renege on his promise to open the lounge to those who did buy in, so he forged ahead. So, what do NFTs have to do with a wellness center?
Each, according to Anteby, corresponds to a level of access. The least expensive, Unity, is the lowest tier and gives holders access to virtual classes. The second tier, Mindful, encompasses physical and virtual access to the Lounge. And the highest tier selling for $5,500, Awakened, are the ones Rafi is selling individually that act as an all-access pass to the Lounge and its benefits and events (including, Anteby said, “spiritual yacht parties”). Both Mindful and Awakened NFTs are lifetime memberships to Rafi Lounge, and include free access to annual retreats it hosts.
But facing the changing seasons of the crypto market and unwilling to sacrifice his brand by letting the Rafi Lounge tokens be resold to oblivion on public markets, Anteby took the drastic step to control his NFT inventory – buying up the remainder a mere day after the minting.
Anteby admitted he “lost a quarter of a million dollars” between creating and buying the NFTs back. But he said it was worth it: “I'm going to take each because I want to control who's coming to my lounge. I want to know that they will be my advocates as well.”
A view of the Rafi Lounge in the afternoon, before a yoga class. Photo: Rafi Lounge
Currently, there are 100 members, 55 of which are lifetime NFT holders. The 6,000 square-foot rooftop lounge is also open to the public. Which is to say, anyone can buy a 10-day pass for $250, pay the $40 fee for individual classes or come to public events. One of those people is Amie Yaniak who was diagnosed with stage four cancer last May that has since metastasized into her bones.
“I’ve never been anywhere like this. This was the first class I’ve done since the cancer, and it was just so cleansing,” Yaniak says. While she’s not a member, Yaniak told me she was interested in returning for more classes.
In addition to people like Yaniak, Anteby is also curating a more select crowd of well-to-do celebrities that can act as brand ambassadors for the lounge. He said he wants it to be a sort of more laid-back SoHo house, where top minds converge on the Pacific Ocean to make deals and network. Some of the names dropped during my tour of the property included Jamie Foxx (who Anteby calls a good friend), Chris Noth, Gladys Knight, and Equinox co-founder Lavinia Errico, whom I actually briefly met, since she’s a member of the Lounge’s advisory board.
The lounge's entryway and check-in. Photo: Samson Amore
As Tame Impala wafts from the lounge’s speakers, Anteby tells me stories of getting Taoist monks drunk at karaoke bars and studying medical qigong and tai chi in China. Anteby hung the intricate mandalas on the walls of a yoga room and he says they take around two years to complete as he carefully places individual grains of sand and uses tree sap to preserve their form. The mandalas are meant to be a contemplation of man’s relationship with nature, which is partly why Anteby designed the NFT versions of them to resemble a sort of elemental fusion that combines water, fire and earth.
Owning an NFT also corresponds to owning a fraction of the Malibu Mandala Rafi made that hangs in the lounge.
Anteby, right, speaks with a partner at his lounge in Malibu.Photo: Samson Amore
While Anteby admits the launch hasn’t netted him any profits yet and said he’s out around $1 million launching the place, he’s determined to turn the Rafi Lounge into a franchise and has plans to open future locations in other cities big into tech and wellness like Miami, Scottsdale, Ariz., Newport Beach, and Austin.
Besides the obvious cases like Yaniak’s, Anteby said he thinks the larger tech community needs a breather. “They all have digital burnout,” he said. “It's more than just me helping you to breathe. You need to take care of yourself, and here people do that all the time.”
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Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College. Send tips or pitches to email@example.com and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.
05:15 AM | December 13, 2022
Vinfast, the Vietnamese EV company with headquarters in Los Angeles, shipped its first order of vehicles to U.S. soil from Hai Phong, Vietnam on November 25th. The batch of 999 automobiles is due to arrive here in California on Thursday this week.
The VF8 SUVs on board will have the difficult task of convincing American buyers that an unknown, untested Vietnamese manufacturer can deliver on a new technology. And so far, the company appears to be off to a rocky start.
According to an email sent to reservation holders on November 29th, the VF8s in the initial shipment will be a special “City Edition” and have lower range advertised than the previously announced versions–just 180 miles in total. Over the weekend, Vinfast confirmed to dot.LA via Twitter that all of the vehicles in the first batch are the City Edition, and that the standard edition would be coming Q1 of 2023. Until this email, there had been little, if any mention of this new City Edition. The message to reservation holders offered no rationale as to why the company was choosing to ship this version of the car instead of the 260-292 mile-range VF8 it’s been advertising for months. Despite the lower range, however, the EVs will still carry a price tag of either $55,500 or $62,500, depending on trim–just $3,000 less than the previously-announced versions.
The VF8 Specs page from Vinfast’s site still bears no mention of a “City Edition,” but that’s what’s coming to America this month.
Vinfast is offering reservation holders an additional $3,000 off these City Edition variants (bringing the total to $6,000 less than the previously announced versions). But even at a discount, the vehicle’s $52,000 price tag is far from competitive with more established EV makers and raises questions about the brand’s strategy and value.
- The 2023 Hyundai Ioniq 5 has 220 miles of range and starts at $42,745. Or 303 miles of range for $60,000.
- The base model Kia EV6 costs $49,795 and goes 206 miles on a full charge.
- The Mustang Mach E starts at 46,895 and reaches 224 miles.
And the list goes on. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a 2023 EV with a worse cost to range ratio than the VF8. Vinfast, which has been nearly impossible to reach on this matter despite numerous calls and emails, hasn’t explained why they chose to offer such a range-compromised version as their initial foray into the U.S. market, or why the cost remains so high.
The reaction to the news, especially on Reddit, has been largely negative, with users accusing the company of “springing” the City Edition on reservation holders. Others speculated that the company rushed out the first batch so it could drum up good press before its recently announced IPO. Whatever the reason, most redditors didn’t seem to be buying it, and with Vinfast so reluctant to comment, it’s hard to see the announcement in a light that bodes well for the company’s future. First impressions tend to last, and this doesn’t seem like a good one for the EV hopeful.
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David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.
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