A popular restaurant app and on-demand platform wants to help up-and-coming Baton Rouge chefs open their own restaurants.
Waitr announced Monday that it is launching in late spring/early summer a restaurant incubator lab from its Baton Rouge office at Celtic Studios. That office is the former space of Indie Plate, a Baton Rouge-based meal-kit company that shut down earlier this month.
Waitr has also acquired select assets from Indie Plate, including a full 1,200-square foot commercial kitchen. Waitr has hired around seven employees from Indie Plate as well as co-founder Peru Sharma to develop the restaurant incubator lab.
The lab will provide chefs and restaurateurs an opportunity to develop menu items, a brand and deliver food to Waitr customers. Waitr CEO Chris Meaux said the lab will probably have two to three concepts working out of the kitchen at a time.
"We want to help as many chefs and restaurateurs get started as we can," Meaux said. "It's about working with students from the culinary institute and upcoming chefs, and getting them with mentors to help create a brand and menu.
"These students and chefs will be able to start to build their business with little costs, and they'll build a following and reputation for themselves on Waitr. Hopefully, that will parlay into a new restaurant concept that they will want to open in the Baton Rouge area."
Waitr will announce those mentors soon, but Meaux said the company is working with several chefs and restaurateurs that are "certainly known in the Baton Rouge area and in Louisiana."
As of now, more details about the program are being fleshed out, Meaux said. Those details include time frame for graduating from the program, goals and other guidelines.
"It's just like starting any other company, we'll get a feel for these things as we go," he said.
Another key for these potential restaurateurs is that they will have access to scientific data through Waitr, such as what proteins work in specific areas. In using this data, restaurateurs can develop menus that might be more successful. Letting restaurants see and use that data to their advantage is the next step in Waitr's growth plan, too.
"Using this scientific data is something we want to do for restaurants in general," Meaux said. "The lab will be the first step in testing that. We want to open that up to our entire population of restaurant partners."
The lab could expand to other markets, but Meaux said that's not Waitr's focus right now.
"We want to create a great culinary experience in Baton Rouge, and we're focused on that for the foreseeable future," he said. "Baton Rouge is one of our largest markets. It's a perfect market for something like this because there are culinary students and vibrant business and restaurant communities. It's a culinary destination."
Meaux is a former restaurateur who partnered and opened restaurants in Texas before launching Waitr three years ago. To date, Waitr is available in 150 cities in seven states. The app will launch this year in another "six or seven states, and 150-plus cities," he said.
He knows the struggles of opening a restaurant and how Waitr helps local restaurants. The incubator lab could help by helping chefs and restaurateurs avoid those risks and struggles as well as add to the Baton Rouge community as a whole.
"If we can help restaurants out the gate be more successful, then it helps the community," he said. "If another restaurant opens, then there will be more employment opportunities. Consumers can keep going to their favorite restaurants ... It snowballs.
"There is a thriving food culture in Baton Rouge. We want to make it stronger."
Chefs interested in the restaurant incubator lab can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Candidates will then be put through an application process.