Host, don't ghost: a Q&A
We overestimated delivery-only restaurant demand and the companies that support it. New York's Nimbus is different — and it's working. CEO Camilla Opperman Morse explains why.
In three years of operation, Camilla Opperman Morse, founder and CEO of New York City co-cooking space Nimbus, has worked with hundreds of chefs, restaurant brands and food creators in her shared kitchen spaces. But when I ask which was the most — for lack of a more precise term — awesome, she has a fast answer.
“My favorite operator to come into the space was Noma, their chefs from Copenhagen,” she says.
Fair, easy answer, I responded. For two weeks during a NYC pop-up in early summer 2022, the team rented a number of hourly kitchens at Nimbus in Brooklyn. The team’s fine dining prowess and legendary attention to details was on full display in the open floor plan. “Even just watching the way that they were synchronized in cutting a carrot was truly like a ballet,” Opperman Morse says. She describes their arrival, with a dozen suitcases full of Scandinavian crustaceans and flowers somehow hustled through U.S. customs as a christening of sorts; they were the first to use the newly opened space.
On Monday, Opperman Morse and Nimbus announced it had doubled its operating footprint in New York, after snapping up two locations previously used by Kitchen United, a one-time commercial kitchen space leader with plans for hundreds of locations that last week announced it would close all physical locations. The announcement surprised many after years of excitement over the $1 trillion1 disruptive promise of delivery-only kitchens and restaurant brands.
But there are nuances2 to running what Opperman Morse calls a four-wall business. It won’t scale like other startups; tech-infused real estate is still real estate, and accepting venture capital in hopes of early growth and a big return is a risky bet. As we’re learning, fast movers in restaurant disruption might crash and burn. It doesn’t have to be a 10-figure opportunity to be a successful one.
Take its most visible partnership: In May 2022, DoorDash launched a location of DoorDash Kitchens, its own grouping of multiple buzzy restaurants, from Nimbus in downtown Brooklyn. It’s not the only location DoorDash supports, but the delivery giant counts them by the handful, not the hundreds. The Kitchens project hasn’t been huge business for DoorDash; in past coverage, I noted that if DoorDash planned to scale those locations, it would have done it already.
Opperman Morse says that about 90 percent of Nimbus’ floor space is commercial kitchens, a mix of open floor plan kitchens available on an hourly basis and enclosed kitchen rooms rented longer-term. The remaining 10 percent of the space, generally visible from the street, is for community events like product launches and pop-up dinners. Nimbus, with 40 rentable kitchens, operates profitably.
“We want people to understand that this business model can work, but it has to be executed properly,” Opperman Morse says.
Her view of the industry and the shared kitchen opportunity is a refreshing and pragmatic bet on the future of independent food and restaurant brands. Here’s more from Opperman Morse on how Nimbus works and why she believes its path less taken is the right way forward.
Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Expedite: Congrats on the expansion news. It’s almost rare to hear it, given everything else that’s happening in ghost kitchens and delivery right now.
Camilla Opperman Morse, founder and CEO, Nimbus: “We were always planning on scaling our operations around New York and beyond, but we really only wanted to do so and open additional sites if we knew they'd be successful.