food trucks

Canadian food truck manufacturer tries its hand at ghost kitchens

By Richard Dal Monte

A busy Canadian manufacturer of food trucks and mobile kitchens is partnering with an American company that has extensive urban land holdings for an innovative project aimed at supporting bricks-and-mortar restaurants and serving their customers.

Apollo Custom Manufacturing Ltd. of Surrey, B.C. has signed a deal with Florida-based Reef Technology Inc. to build a pair of custom ghost kitchens, with an option for seven more.

Reef purchased Impark in 2018 and owns or runs some 5,000 parking lots across North America, including about 1,500 in Canada.

It places ghost kitchens in its lots and they serve as off-site kitchens for existing restaurants. Reef operates the remote kitchens, which prepare items from restaurants’ menus for pickup by delivery services such as Uber Eats, Skip the Dishes, and DoorDash. 

As Mason Harrison, Reef’s head of communications, told Business in Vancouver recently, Reef pays for construction and placement of the kitchens as well as all operational costs — including supplies and staff — in a revenue-sharing agreement with the restaurant, which benefits from moving the crowd of insulated-bag-wielding delivery drivers off-site while expanding its customer base. 

It’s an especially timely arrangement given the prohibitive cost of restaurant space in many cities and the ever-growing demand, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, for delivery of food and retail products. Meanwhile, the popularity of food trucks has exploded over the last decade across North America. 

Indeed, Rob Mallory, Apollo’s sales and marketing manager, said the company has never been busier. 

Started 22 years ago by owner Norm Kerfoot, who named the company after his beloved dog, Apollo began making hot dog and coffee carts, then progressed into mobile kitchen trucks, trailers, and containers.

“We’ve built a reputation for building a certifiable commercial kitchen into almost any vehicle that is brought in,” says Mallory, noting Apollo’s experience building food trucks and trailers that meet all Canadian health and safety standards, and — particularly important for Reef’s purposes — that are suitable for this country’s often chilly climate.

The two ghost kitchens it is building for Reef will be a test run to determine how well they work as the American company expands such services in Canada. Reef already operates about 30 such trailers in Toronto, Edmonton, and Calgary, and Apollo’s two are destined for Vancouver parking lots.

But building those ghost kitchens, which are about 50 per cent larger than the average food truck, will hardly be the biggest challenge Apollo has faced.

It has created mobile pizzerias in old fire trucks, four-wheeled Tim Hortons, White Spot, and Carl’s Jr. restaurants, and even a Slurpee truck for 7-Eleven. Apollo has shipped its products across North America as well as to Europe, Australia, and the Middle East, and recently sent one to the U.K.

“There’s not much we haven’t built over the years,” says owner Kerfoot, who noted the company in its earliest days also did custom steel and aluminum fabrication, built gym equipment and even bike racks.

One notable build was the Buddha Bus for the plant-based eatery Buddha-Full.

In an old double-decker bus, Apollo’s crew (14 employees in a 12,000-sq. ft. facility) created a kitchen and serving area on the lower deck, then built a dining area on the upper deck, complete with custom dining tables and benches. One more detail: They cut off the roof and equipped it with air-assist cylinders, which raise and lower it, allowing for fresh air and more head room.

“Every job we do is a little bit different from the other ones, or it’s a lot different,” Kerfoot says. “So we’re always thinking, we’re always evolving, we’re always trying to come up with a better product.

“You get an old, beat-up truck that comes in here and when it goes out, it looks like a million bucks.” 

Richard Dal Monte has worked as an award-winning journalist and freelance writer and editor since 1986. From 2001 to April 2020, he served as the editor of The Tri-City News, a community news organization serving the residents of Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, and Port Moody in B.C. He now works as a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant.