BiteUnite, a combination cafe, commercial kitchen, and online platform for chefs to book space and publicize their offerings, wants to bring diners and food entrepreneurs together in San Francisco. It already does in Hong Kong, where Patta Arkaresvimun founded the first BiteUnite location in 2016. Now, after a yearlong buildout and permitting process, BiteUnite is taking applications from chefs who want to join its new Mission District home at 600 South Van Ness (on the corner of 17th).
At first blush, BiteUnite looks like a contemporary cafe — and it is, at least from the front, with cold brew coffee and kombucha on tap and communal seating for patrons. The cafe opens to the public next Monday. A second look at the space reveals more: A commissary kitchen behind the cafe, with everything a chef might need, from fryers and charbroilers to walk-ins and dry storage space.
But in a third, online dimension, BiteUnite provides something else: A digital platform for chefs. They can log into BiteUnite’s website to reserve (and pay for) stations to suit their needs. Arkaresvimun, for example, plans to book the kitchen and communal table to teach evening classes, sharing a basil chicken recipe from her native Thailand. Diners can book their spot in the class online, too.
Later that night, a baker can reserve the 24-hour kitchen space (rentals start at $25 an hour), working to stock the cafe’s pastry case before the next wave of chef-members arrive in the morning.
“Some people like to bake cakes, some people like to do private dinners, some people like to teach cooking classes — there are a lot of different food experiences in how you and me as a person can be connected,” says Arkaresvimun. Before founding BiteUnite, she was creative director for Philips Designs and Gibson Innovations in Hong Kong, and she’s now relocated with her husband and two children to San Francisco.
In the Bay Area, where costs associated with starting a food business can be prohibitive, local food entrepreneurs are hardly strangers to commissary kitchens like La Cocina and Forage Kitchen and pop-up spaces like Joint Venture and Naked Kitchen. Meanwhile, food “experiences” — classes and one-off dinners with a personal component — are gaining popularity, aided by online booking platforms like Feastly and (now-closed) EatWith.
But BiteUnite’s value proposition is in its combination of tools. Why host your Feastly dinner in a home kitchen when BiteUnite has a commercial dishwasher, seating for 49, and a beer and wine license in the works? And then, why host it online through Feastly at all when you can publish your menu on BiteUnite’s website, from which you’ve already booked the space?
Plus, BiteUnite can take care of a major aspect some chefs might overlook: Publicity. “You cook well, that’s one thing. Permitting, that’s another. But if nobody knows about you, you can’t sell a cake,” Arkaresvimun says.
“If you’re just working in a commissary kitchen somewhere where nobody sees you, it’s hard to be out there.” By contrast, she says, “the moment you’re in BiteUnite, you have a team with social media marketing, the day you step in.”
Ideally, chefs will have a built-in community, too: “One thing I learned [in Hong Kong] that’s really important is that we [have to] share values of being social and community-driven. we’re cooking beside each other … we’re not a rental kitchen. It’s a community of chefs.”