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Travis Kalanick’s new venture buys UK ‘dark kitchens’ business

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Travis Kalanick’s new venture buys UK ‘dark kitchens’ business

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Mergers & Acquisitions

Travis Kalanick’s new venture buys UK ‘dark kitchens’ business

Ex-Uber chief looks to expand outside US through acquisitions

Travis Kalanick's CloudKitchens would enable restaurants to share facilities and cut overheads © FT montage; Bloomberg; Dreamstime

Travis Kalanick’s City Storage Systems quietly acquired London-based “dark kitchens” start-up FoodStars last year, regulatory filings show, as the former Uber chief expands his new global venture.

The takeover bought CSS, which operates under the CloudKitchens brand in the US, instant access to more than a hundred commercial kitchens in several locations across London. 

Last year’s FoodStars deal, which has not previously been reported, is CSS’s first confirmed move outside the US, and underlines Mr Kalanick’s appetite for growing the business through acquisition. The Los Angeles-based company is also eyeing expansion in Asia.

Mr Kalanick acquired a controlling stake in CSS a year ago for $150m, using some of the proceeds of a $1.4bn Uber stock sale. The former Uber chief executive is hoping to capitalise on the fast-growing food delivery market by building a network of kitchens dedicated to serving online takeaway orders, through apps such as Deliveroo, Uber Eats and DoorDash. 

“CSS is excited about its early 2018 investment in the FoodStars real-estate portfolio,” CSS said. “The deal included properties developed as commercial kitchen space in the London metropolitan area. We anticipate this space will help fuel job creation as local food entrepreneurs look to expand food preparation and production across London.”

FoodStars was founded in east London’s Bethnal Green in 2015 when the food delivery boom was beginning to gain momentum. Its founders William Beresford, Daniel Abrahams and Roy Shaby started out in 2012 making takeaway sushi in Camberwell, South London, and rented out their spare kitchen space to help cover costs. 

By last year, FoodStars had grown to more than 100 commercial kitchens across half a dozen sites, from Battersea and Vauxhall to Shoreditch and Kentish Town. Like its US sibling CloudKitchens, FoodStars does not operate the kitchens itself, but instead leases its real estate to a diverse array of restaurants looking for extra capacity, as well as delivery-focused outfits. 

“Our fully equipped state-of-the-art dark kitchens can be found in key points around London, helping you keep ahead of the competition,” FoodStars says on its website, offering private commercial kitchens fully kitted out with cooking and preparation equipment for upwards of £2,500 a month. “You’re hustling away 24/7 building your food empire . . . All you need to do is turn up and sign.” 

Regulatory filings in California show that Mr Kalanick created a new holding company, CSS Intl HoldCo, last August, apparently to act as a vehicle for dealmaking abroad. 

CSS Intl HoldCo is now the ultimate parent company of FoodStars, via a new subsidiary called Flatpark Holdings, according to records posted to the UK’s Companies House registry earlier this month. Mr Kalanick is listed as a “person with significant control” at Flatpark, while Mr Beresford and Mr Shaby are listed as directors, suggesting they remain involved in the business. 

The UK filings also revealed some previously undisclosed members of CloudKitchens’ senior team. Staff at the company have been told to keep their new employer off their LinkedIn profiles, people familiar with the situation told the FT last month, as part of a broader effort by Mr Kalanick to keep his plans under the radar of potential rivals. 

Individuals listed at Companies House as officers of FoodStars, CSS and their various affiliates include Matt Atkin, a former Uber manager who led some of its earliest international launches and Colby Goff, a tech entrepreneur turned restaurateur with the Rustic Canyon group of restaurants in LA. 

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