Bold new dining concept gives Silver Chef a time to shine

Posted on 07 september 2018

When you hear about the HWKR concept, it’s difficult not to say - why didn’t I think of that?
 
Low cost, clever, and oh-so-simple, it seems odd that it hasn’t been thought of before. The idea goes a little something like this: HWKR food centre provides the space and the equipment for tenants looking to trial their wares. Tenants come through with original food concepts, and provide the food for HWKR customers. It’s low risk, high return business; and everyone walks away a winner.
 
Just as Uber Eats reinvented food delivery and Netflix reinvented cable television, HWKR is prompting everyone from customers to landlords to reconsider how they think about hospitality. And Silver Chef couldn’t be more excited to be involved as HWKR’s major partner.
 
Eleena Tan is the founder of BrandWorks, the creative agency behind the HWKR concept. As a former restaurant owner herself, she was the right woman for the job when ICD Property came calling: they needed something to fill their ground level retail space, but couldn’t find the right fit.
 
“We worked with Simone at ICD Property to bring HWKR to life,” says Eleena.
 
“They had this space at the bottom of the EQ Tower in A’Beckett St, Melbourne, but it wasn’t street facing and it was inside an arcade. So, they were wondering what they could do with it, and how to make it a destination. We came up with a concept together of recreating an Asian-style ‘hawker centre’ for the 21st century,” added Eleena.
 
The demographic around EQ Tower is largely Asian: 31.6%, according to Eleena. She felt that they would be missing the hawker centres that are common in Asian countries – typically large, open-air complexes in which various street vendors sell their food. Therefore, her idea for HWKR was simply a modern update on an old tradition.
 
However, here in Australia, this was something very new. Hospitality businesses have always been fiercely protective of their turf – competition isn’t something you welcome into your own backyard, let alone your own venue. But for Eleena, it was less about competing with the other tenants as it was about leveraging off each other’s creativity and success.
 
“One of the great things about the HWKR concept is that we wanted to constantly evolve. The problem for most hospitality businesses is, how do we keep it new and fresh? How do we keep people coming back for more? So, we came up with this idea of rotating out the kitchen,” said Eleena.
 
Simone Gervasi, Development Manager at ICD Property and one of the key driving forces behind HWKR has heralded the success of the project in helping to foster talent.
 
“One of the most rewarding aspects of working on HWKR is having the opportunity to help our tenants bring their concepts to life, to help them to realise their dreams. We’ve worked with some pretty inspirational chefs and business owners, there’s just so much to learn from them. Knowing that we could be the starting point for the next big thing is pretty exciting too, they can look back at HWKR as where it all began for them!” said Simone.
 
Tenants stay somewhere between three to six months, bringing with them only their staff and their ingredients. HWKR remains the same: the decor having all being designed specifically for the regular rotation of brands. There are digital menus and digital signage, with plenty of information about how the system works.
 
Also changing out with each rotation is the kitchen equipment – and that’s where Silver Chef comes in.
 
“Hospitality has a lot of barriers to entry – capital is one of the biggest ones and kitchen equipment is the other. So being able to be flexible in that regard is really appealing. Tenants are just amazed,” said Eleena.
 
The HWKR concept and Silver Chef are a match made in heaven. The flexibility of being able to swap out equipment on a regular basis at no extra cost was pivotal to HWKR’s success - and Simone acknowledges that.
 
“One of the greatest challenges we encountered when initially designing the space was the potential to offer interchangeable cooklines. It had never been done before and it was all very complicated for a multitude of reasons. For us, flexibility was key. Silver Chef was open to the challenge and really supported our team from the get-go. Together we collaborated, thought outside the box and came up with a fantastic solution that is admired by so many within the industry today. During the changeover of tenants, our team is under immense time pressure and Silver Chef and their suppliers at DHT make this process as streamlined as possible. The tenants love it. It really is a win-win for everyone,” said Simone.
 
So whilst Eleena and HWKR had found their perfect match, what did the team at Silver Chef think?
 
Ben Steele, a Silver Chef Sales team member, says that he was equally as impressed with the partnership and feels the HWKR model is the way of the future. When negotiating with HWKR, they were only too happy to accommodate a shorter term (six months) to fit the rotating model.
 
“We were satisfying their need for short term equipment, whilst the benefit to us was their commitment to renting equipment indefinitely. They were lowering the risk by committing to being an ongoing client,” said Ben.
 
The deciding factor for the HWKR model would come down to what happened to the previous tenant’s equipment once is was swapped out. It couldn’t just sit around in storage so this is where Silver Chef was able to help.
 
“If HWKR didn’t work with the Silver Chef system, they would have assets everywhere. The whole process of installation, storage, and cleaning would become a logistical nightmare. With Silver Chef, we were able to rent or sell their used items back to market, and only put aside items they knew they would need again,” said Ben.
 
It takes only two days for the old tenant to move out of HWKR and for the new tenant to move in. For new tenants coming into HWKR, they are allocated a $200 per week budget to cover their equipment. Thanks to the Silver Chef range of second-hand items, this has been more than enough to date.
 
With WonderBao and Messina as the brand new operators inside HWKR, the proof is in the pudding that even the biggest hospitality names don’t need to spend a fortune on setting up a kitchen.
 
What HWKR has proven is that ‘try before you buy’ is going to become the way of the future when it comes to striking success in new hospitality locations.
 
‘If I had to pick one thing that I would say is crucial to HWKR’s success, I would have to say the flexibility of the entire business model. In a time where trends come and go so quickly, learning to be agile is as critical as ever. For now, rotating tenancies are the perfect business model for all stakeholders. The changing cookline provided by Silver Chef is one of the most important elements to this model. Start-ups are such a big thing right now, and we saw the perfect gap in the market to provide this business model to restaurant brands, or aspiring brands,” says Simone.
 
The benefits are shared among all parties: the landlord is constantly showing off something new and exciting, the tenant gets to trial their food offering before investing in bricks and mortar and the customer has a reliable, permanent location that promises a new experience every time.
 
Flexibility is what so many new businesses are wanting – and needing – in order to grow in the current climate. The chance to get straight in and experiment without the heavy attachments of a traditional set-up means a great chance of success, and more room to play with exciting new concepts.
 
After thirty years of committing to flexibility, Silver Chef is so excited to explore new interpretations of our services.