Coming very soon to the Needham area: a “virtual” restaurant that only does delivery, takeout, and catering. When True Taste Seasonal Kitchen opens — possibly as soon as May 1 — it’ll offer a completely gluten-free menu that also satisfies a lot of other special dietary needs. “We’re basically doing clean eating, seasonal, farm-to-table food,” says chef-owner Dan Tavan, a Shake Shack veteran who helped open a number of locations, including Chestnut Hill.
Tavan and chef David Tak, who was previously executive chef at Barcelona Wine Bar’s South End location, are serving up food that’s also free of added sugars, soy, dairy, shellfish, and pork. A number of menu items will be suitable for those on Paleo or Whole30 diets, and Tavan himself tends to follow what he describes as a “four-day Paleo diet,” which allows for a little bit of cheating on weekends.
Tavan originally set out to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant, but after searching for spaces for a while, he decided that a food truck would be a “safer way to start.” Planning for a food truck led to finding a commissary space — conveniently in Needham, where he lives — and the idea to turn it into a delivery-only restaurant took shape.
The idea of “virtual restaurants” that exist as delivery services rather than brick-and-mortar storefronts isn’t new, at least not in New York City, Silicon Valley, and a few other parts of the United States and Europe. “Delivery-only seems to be a natural evolution of a couple of other trends,” according to a September 2016 Eater.com article, “namely, meal kits (á la Blue Apron and HelloFresh) and delivery services like Seamless/Grubhub and UberEATS, which connect existing restaurants to the on-demand needs of consumers.”
The landscape is getting crowded in New York City, in particular. Tavan mentions Maple, a delivery-only restaurant service that counts Momofuku’s David Chang among its investors. Later, Chang also debuted his own delivery-only restaurant, Ando. Another New York-based company, Green Summit, actually operates a number of different virtual concepts, an idea that appeals to Tavan. “They just brand everything differently; they have different to-go bags and different cups and stickers and different menus, but it’s all cooked in the same place,” he says. “From a customer’s perspective, they’re on GrubHub, they see a taco concept, a pizza concept, whatever, but it’s really all just one kitchen. As long as we can maintain our allergen-friendly ethos, we could operate multiple concepts and really grow to suit different markets.”
To start, True Taste will be available within a standard delivery radius around the Needham facility, which is located at 301 Reservoir St. True Taste will partner with third-party delivery companies such as GrubHub and DoorDash, who tend to make deliveries within a 15-minute drive. Corporate catering and bulk orders will also be available throughout the Metrowest. Then, come summer, Tavan plans to launch a food truck onto the streets of Boston and Cambridge on weekdays, which will also act as a hub for deliveries in those cities.
An actual brick-and-mortar restaurant isn’t out of the realm of possibility either. “If we found the right space and the right demographic, then we would definitely want to do that,” says Tavan. “This is essentially a commissary, which is great, because we can do a lot of centralized prep work. We’re going to make all our stocks from scratch, things like that. So I can certainly see it serving as a commissary so that we could build brick-and-mortar locations with smaller footprints, kind of like Bon Me or Clover.” (Last week, both Bon Me and Clover announced even more planned local growth.)
“Ultimately what I’d love to do is to be able to drop True Taste Kitchens anywhere there’s a good local farm community,” says Tavan.