On the first floor of the mall sit six kitchens that symbolise tectonic shifts in India’s hospitality industry.

Tucked in a lane off Whitefield Main Road, Bengaluru, the mall, HVP Aster’s entrance is dotted by mounds of cement and stone slabs. But walk to the first level, and the palette of construction grey gives way to industrial metal: it’s this 2700 sq ft space, shared between Grow Fit, Zippy, Frozen Bottle, Sharief Bhai, Yumlane, and Rice Bowl, that satiates rumbling stomachs within a four-kilometre radius.

The co-working kitchen space, a ‘pod’, is one of 12 Swiggy Access points in Bengaluru. It’s also one of many types of cloud kitchens, a term used so loosely—and used interchangeably with ‘shadow kitchens’ or ‘dark kitchens’—it can mean different things for different brands.

Not so long ago, food brands wouldn’t give a second thought to planning their kitchen spaces. This is now taking prime spot in strategy. The essence is a delivery-only kitchen with no storefront or dine-in option, an apparent solution in these paradoxical times of shrinking spaces and burgeoning real estate prices.

There’s plenty of musculature on the cloud kitchen skeleton. Swiggy Access, for instance, offers kitchen spaces to restaurant partners in neighbourhoods where they don’t have a presence. Its USP is what Vishal Bhatia, the company’s CEO of New Supply, calls its plug-and-play model: a shell of a kitchen with gas pipelines, drainage and ventilation systems. Just walk in with your equipment, set things up, deploy staff, and you’re good to go.

These Access kitchens, however, are different from the full-stack model—where food is prepared and delivered by the same brand—Swiggy uses for its own labels, Bowl Company and Homely. Freshmenu, one of the earliest cloud kitchen startups, is considering corporate and tech park kiosks so people can “touch and feel the brand,” as CEO Rashmi Daga puts it. Rebel Foods switched from a QSR (quick service restaurant) focus to being one of the most bullish cloud kitchen players, with nine brands under its umbrella. Aggregator Foodpanda acquired HolaChef in October 2018. Future Group wants in on the cloud kitchen bandwagon. UberEats, whose Indian arm is set to be acquired by Swiggy, is doing things differently. And so is Zomato, as we’ll see in a while.

Different companies also strategise their selection of spaces, cuisine mixes and staff distinctively. “Data on the platform tells us what the most searched-for food or restaurant in a particular area is. We then look at the available options relative to local demand,” says Vishal Bhatia.

At a coffee shop in the primarily-residential neighbourhood of Kalyan Nagar in Bengaluru, the CEO of Swiggy New Supply explains how each pod caters to a demographic. Predominantly-IT areas tend to favour bowl meals and ‘round-the-clock’ eating options, meaning you need to onboard partners willing to serve food until late. But an Access pod just walking distance from the Kalyan Nagar coffee shop may not have this compulsion.


Roshni Nair

Roshni P. Nair joins us from Reuters, where she was an online producer. With a background in weekend features at Hindustan Times and DNA, Roshni has written on subjects ranging from India’s amateur UFO investigators to the provenance of sambhar. When not pursuing story ideas, she enjoys reading, making a great cuppa adrak chai, playing with street dogs, and avoiding large gatherings. Roshni will work out of Mumbai and can be reached at roshni at the rate the-ken.com

View Full Profile

Available exclusively to subscribers of The Ken India

This story is a part of The Ken India edition. Subscribe. Questions?


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 200+ stories, archive of 800+ stories from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 2,750


Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 60+ new stories with 3-months worth of archives from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 1,750


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

Rs. 500


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 150+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 120


Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 35+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 50


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

$ 20



What is The Ken?

The Ken is a subscription-only business journalism website and app that provides coverage across two editions - India and Southeast Asia.

What kind of stories do you write?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics.

We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

What do I get if I subscribe?

For subscribers of the India edition, we publish a new story every weekday, a premium daily newsletter, Beyond The First Order and a weekly newsletter - The Nutgraf.

For subscribers of the Southeast Asia edition, we publish a new story three days a week and a weekly newsletter, Strait Up.

The annual subscription will get you complete, exclusive access to our archive of previously published stories for your edition, along with access to our subscriber-only mobile apps, our premium comment sections, our newsletter archives and several other gifts and benefits.

Do I need to pay separately for your premium newsletters?

Nope. Paid, premium subscribers of The Ken get our newsletters delivered for free.

Does a subscription to the India edition grant me access to Southeast Asia stories? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

Do you offer an all-access joint subscription for both editions?

Not yet. If you’d like to access both editions, you’ll have to purchase two subscriptions separately - one for India and the other for Southeast Asia.

Do you offer any discounts?

No. We have a zero discounts policy.

Is there a free trial I can opt for?

We don’t offer any trials, but you can sign up for a free account which will give you access to the weekly free story, our archive of free stories and summaries of the paid stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

Do you offer refunds?

We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Please write to us at [email protected] detailing the error or queries.