In a time when ghost kitchens and meal kits are in vogue, Toronto’s Lavish focuses on unique quality.
By Tom Nightingale
For much of the last 12 months, eating at home has been the new dining out. The stark reality is that the physical dining experience as we knew it pre-COVID-19 may not be back for some time. For many people, it might never return at all.
Before March 2020, you and your significant other might have booked a table at a high-end restaurant, shared a bottle of wine, and enjoyed the full package of fine food and date-night ambience as a weekly evening out or a special occasion.
These days, many consumers are striving to recreate that experience within their own four walls. Providing them with that experience is the statement of Lavish, a new high-end on-demand meal kit service.
Focusing on quality
“During Ontario’s shutdown, my partner and were looking at ordering from one of the nice restaurants we frequent,” Landa tells RestoBiz. “I started wondering how I could provide a fun experience as well as a good dining experience at home.” He says he was shocked to find the options were limited when it came to looking for a “truly high-quality” meal kit dinner.
As the whole foodservice industry has had to pivot from indoor dining to primarily – if not entirely – takeout and delivery, maintaining high standards has been a persistent issue.
The problem is that it is incredibly difficult to replicate a $40 to-table steak dinner when you’re no longer bringing it directly from the kitchen but instead boxing it up. That medium-rare steak is not going to be the same after it’s travelled for 20 to 30 minutes and gone through temperature changes, and that’s without even factoring in other lost factors – service, ambience, the enjoyment of being out for the evening.
“As a restaurant, if I can’t provide all of those good things, where are all those costs going?” asks Landa. “I started thinking I could put them into elevated packaging, into elevating the at-home experience with instruction cards and so forth. That was essentially the birth of Lavish: how do I do takeout and still elevate the at-home experience?”
An at-home culinary experience
Launched on January 27, Lavish operates out of a ghost kitchen in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood, near Bathurst and Bloor streets, and serves a 7 km. radius that spans from St. Clair to Lake Ontario and the Don Valley Parkway to Lansdowne. Pick-up is available from thelavish.ca if people are outside of the delivery radius.
Landa is keen to stress that Lavish is not a typical meal kit service. With those, which have become popular offerings in recent years, customers typically get the raw ingredients and make the dish at home. Instead, Landa’s company offers gourmet and chef-prepared dishes that arrive cooked and largely prepared. All the consumer must do is heat the dish, add any finishing touches, plate, and serve.
The idea, Landa explains, is that customers still get the enjoyment of preparing the meal at home while not compromising on the quality of the food.
“Let’s say I’m doing a pulled pork slider, he says. “Instead of packing up the sliders warm, sending them out, and letting the buns get soggy and the meat get cold, our thought is: why can’t the customer do the final step? It’s so easy. By reheating, adding garnish, plating, you can have the experience, but we’ve still done so much of the work for you.”
While many establishments have needed to find the best way possible of translating their dine-in menu to takeout without compromising on quality, Lavish meals are cooked and prepared with the intention they will be reheated and finished off at home. They also come with preparation instructions that are tailored to each meal, letting the diner know exactly what needs to be done up until service. “Every single menu item has been planned to be delivered in this fashion,” explains Landa. “It wasn’t a pivot to get in-restaurant menu items ready for takeout, this was the starting point. And it’s a totally different starting point and a totally different experience.”
Another benefit is that, unlike typical meal kits, these meals can be prepared by even the most inexperienced of cooks. “The food doesn’t suffer at the hands of an inexperienced cook because we’ve done so much of the work. There’s still the final steps to do but it’s fun, and the food tastes, looks, and feels better because it’s hot out of the pan instead of warm out of the box.”
Lavish’s wide range of gourmet meals are available for order on their website, delivery through the site or some third-party apps, or pick-up from the kitchen. Once an order is placed, it is ready to pick up within an hour. Once in a customer’s kitchen, they are ready to eat in 20 minutes or often much less.
Taking risks in a pandemic
It’s been quite the journey for Landa, who was on track to forge a career in corporate culinary work before the pandemic hit and essentially closed off that option in the medium term. Since starting out at a fine dining restaurant, he has spent time studying Italian cuisine in Italy at the Italian Culinary Institute in Calabria, attaining a masters degree at Georgetown in the U.S., and working with the culinary director of development for Marriott International before becoming a banquet manager.
“I was able to work with a lot of great chefs in a lot of different spaces and I feel like I got a great education that way,” Landa says. “I was really on the corporate track, but I reconsidered that once COVID-19 hit; it just didn’t seem like the best path forward at that point.”
Starting a new business in a pandemic is an inherent risk. Landa’s aim has been to fill a hole in the market which has only been further exposed by COVID-19, but it’s nevertheless tough to get a concept like Lavish off the ground during times like these. “You can look at it both ways,” he acknowledges. “It’s also quite a saturated market now for meal kits, even if we are a little different, and anyone and everyone with a kitchen is on UberEats right now.
“When we talk to people, explain and demonstrate in practice the concept, they love it, but people just don’t know we exist yet,” he adds. But then, Lavish has only been in operation for two months, and they are gaining some traction. Certainly, in a time when the methods of food consumption are shifting, his offering is clear. Lavish wants to provide high-quality, at-home shareable moments centred around delicious gourmet food. After all, eating in is the new eating out.
About Brand Culture:
Brand Culture Marketing is proud to be the Agency of Record for Lavish and worked with them on branding, packaging, signage, building out and managing their social and digital presence and also taught them how to make changes to their own website so they have full control to make any changes at their discretion. Brand Culture also taught Lavish how to build out their digital presence through Google My Business including how to write and deploy Google search ads. In an industry where margins are constantly squeezed, we are happy to partner with our clients to help them be less reliant on our services and re-direct those dollars to advertising and self-promotions. Brand Culture Marketing is a boutique marketing and communications agency that specializes in connecting their clients with their niche audiences with a full suite of marketing solutions, enabling them to identify, inform and influence key decision-makers.