It’s difficult enough to run a profitable restaurant under typical circumstances. But as COVID-19 forced the closure of thousands of restaurants nationwide, being in the food service industry is especially precarious. Despite the odds, one restaurant has continued its nationwide expansion.

Wow Bao, a fast-casual restaurant, serves up bao (steamed Asian buns), rice and noodle bowls, potstickers, dumplings, soup, and specialty drinks in Chicago. Here’s how they expand their nationwide footprint with minimal kitchen equipment, their existing tech stack, and three extra feet of kitchen space.


What are dark kitchens, and why is Wow Bao partnering with them?

Off-premise dining continues to take off even as states relax on-premise dining restrictions. To continue meeting customer demands — and to empower other restaurant operators — Wow Bao turned to innovative new uses for “dark kitchens.” Dark kitchen facilities, also called ghost kitchens, are locations in which food is prepared expressly for off-premise consumption. There is no dine-in component. 

As a fast-casual restaurant, Wow Bao’s emphasis on higher quality foods – without the waitstaff overhead – was a natural fit for a food-prep oriented model. However, Wow Bao took the dark kitchen concept a step further by partnering with other foodservice operators to serve up and sell Wow Bao’s top-selling menu items. Thus, participating restaurants can serve multiple brands out of one kitchen — all with existing equipment and manpower.


“As restaurateurs look to increase productivity and sales out of their spaces, the ability to easily offer an established recognized brand is a priceless benefit.” – Geoff Alexander, President of Wow Bao


Wow Bao President Geoff Alexander recalls how they got started. “In late 2019 we pivoted to an asset-light model to help restaurant and foodservice operator partners grow sales and increase profits by offering Wow Bao via third-party delivery platforms. We set up a supply chain, created an online training platform, and cultivated relationships with all the delivery platforms. Due to COVID-19, our established initiative is allowing restaurants much needed revenue.”

The benefits are two-fold. First, participating restaurants are able to sell Wow Bao products from their own kitchens and work with an established brand. The result? Expanded topline revenue and bottom-line profits. Second, Wow Bao is able to serve new markets and expand its footprint beyond traditional brick-and-mortar stores.


How Wow Bao keeps its momentum using technology

While this new distribution model was in the works before COVID-19, the shuttering of dining rooms across the country has accelerated demand.

“The restaurant landscape has always been one of evolution,” says Alexander. “Due to COVID-19 the restaurant industry has entered unchartered territory. With the rise of ghost kitchens, and the change in dining habits, Wow Bao’s delivery-only initiative is optimal for the months and years ahead.”

Right now, Wow Bao is vetting and processing inquiries to activate dark kitchens in over one hundred locations. They’ve got 22 kitchens in 14 cities already up-and-running in just over eight weeks. To keep track of surging demand along a complex sales pipeline, Wow Bao turned to Sales Cloud to vet and onboard new dark kitchen operators.

“We activated our first dark kitchen partners while most of the country was under shelter-in-place orders. We had planned to use Sales Cloud as a CRM (customer relationship management) solution, and it quickly became a critical project management and communication tool. It helped our team, all working from home, stay on the same page, and in lockstep with one another,” Alexander says.


“Through our dark kitchen initiative, our main objective is to give small and medium restaurant operators across the country the ability to drive incremental sales and build resilience during these challenging times.” – Geoff Alexander, President of Wow Bao


With an influx of interest from operators across the country, Wow Bao has been able to standardize their vetting and qualification process and ensure proper follow-up on each opportunity. How exactly? By integrating their inquiry form directly with their CRM, Wow Bao collects the information necessary for their initial qualification which automatically triggers an email alert to their sales team to follow up. From this initial qualification information, Wow Bao’s sales team can evaluate the applicant and take the appropriate next steps. Further, they’ve set up the Opportunity record with fields that cover all key info needed to onboard a partner, which helps ensure all the key topics are being covered and shared with the functional support teams (supply chain, marketing, etcetera).

“Having Sales Cloud as the central source of truth for the status of opportunities saves us the time loss that is inherent in tracking down information. We can use that time saved to respond to new leads and to onboard new opportunities,” Alexander shares.

Wow Bao maintains a strong relationship with partners long after onboarding is complete. Using easy to setup integrations into Salesforce, Wow Bao is able to aggregate and visualize performance and operational efficiency data from third-party tools to monitor the health of dark kitchens after they’ve been opened. Alexander notes, ”Our ability to track and monitor certain operational metrics is crucial to ensure [our partner’s] success. The Sales Cloud ecosystem helps enable this.”

With Sales Cloud as a nerve center for their program, Wow Bao is able to scale hundreds — even thousands — of dark kitchen locations, seamlessly integrating additional team members as they come on board to support this growth.

Read more in our Leading Through Change blog series, which offers thought leadership, tips, and advice for retailers, including how grocery retailers are growing as they start to reopen. Then, get our latest thinking and advice with our all-new solutions. Because reopening and staying open (and growing) is a journey. 

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