LATROBE, Pa. (AP) – For those who believe, ghosts come in a variety of forms: floating balls of light, haunting voices, or, as the famous fictional ghostbuster Raymond Stantz believes, “a full torso, free-floating appearance. “
As it turns out, this is also what “ghost kitchens” do: phantoms from the world of food, in which taste and not fright are in the foreground. A ghost kitchen or virtual restaurant uses an existing business to create a new menu that’s available almost entirely via delivery, and often through third-party delivery services like DoorDash, GrubHub, Postmates, Seamless, and Uber Eats.
It’s all designed to create a new source of income for businesses without having to create a new store front and dining area. Restaurants can offer new menu items – or entire restaurant themes – while saving the traditional cost of opening a new restaurant, including square footage and staff.
For Joe Wyant, a trainer at the Valley Dairy Restaurant in Unity, the Taco Joe brand was a way to serve a different meal in a different way.
“We have great burgers, so at first we thought we’d make burgers of course,” said Wyant, 50, of Kittanning. “But that was already done by the restaurant. Pizza, wings, they were made. “
He and Valley Dairy Association president Melissa Blystone took a look at their restaurant locations and found that there were few, if any, taco spots nearby. They met with their grocers, “put our heads together and met with their chef to develop a number of different types of taco,” said Wyant. “I must have gained 15 pounds when I tried them.”
After the first week of operating Taco Joe’s from the Rostraver site, Wyant began making plans to expand into Unity and East Huntingdon.
“We’re trying to serve different types of customers than those who normally support Valley Dairy,” said Blystone. “From my point of view, it’s a win-win situation. We use the kitchen space as another way to serve the public. “
Governor Tom Wolf temporarily banned indoor eating in Pennsylvania in March shortly after the coronavirus pandemic arrived. That forced companies to deliver home, roadside pickup, and alfresco dining. Limited indoor dining has resumed – as was the case after another ban over the holidays, usually one of the busiest times for bars and restaurants.
Pennsylvania wasn’t alone.
According to Open Table.com, all 50 states along with Washington, DC have banned or restricted indoor eating in some ways in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.
According to the National Restaurant Association, the US restaurant industry is expected to have sales of $ 900 billion in 2020. The industry missed that target by $ 240 billion.
More than 110,000 US food and drink establishments will be temporarily or permanently closed in 2020.
However, during the pandemic, the industry grew in one sector.
Online delivery orders, either through third-party services or direct from restaurants, accounted for $ 45 billion last year – up from $ 30 billion in sales in 2017 and ahead of the 2020 forecast by Alphawise, a data subsidiary of Morgan $ 41 billion Stanley Research.
Researchers found that restaurant sales through delivery and online ordering were two or three years ahead of original projections.
The New York Times reported last week that ghost kitchens could grow into a $ 1 trillion industry worldwide in the next decade.
Morgan Stanley predicted the U.S. restaurant delivery business would grow to $ 220 billion by the end of 2020, long before the pandemic.
No no; Yes / Yes
Frank Halling, owner of PghGhostOne in Aliquippa, seemed like a culinary phantom from the start. If you didn’t pick up takeaway you wouldn’t even know his shop is there.
“It’s just an empty building, which is a certified kitchen that’s delivered and taken out through our third-party apps,” Halling said. “Basically, the ideal ghost restaurant is no (street) advertising, no sitting, a minimum of internal and external infrastructure.”
Tim Tobitsch, owner of Franktuary in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood, stepped into the ghost kitchen business after partnering with NextBite, which calls itself a “virtual kitchen market”. The Denver-based company set up Wiz Khalifa’s ghost kitchen, HotBox by Wiz, which operates out of Franktuary, as well as the Grilled Cheese Society, another ghost kitchen.
“NextBite had 10 or 13 different concepts,” said Tobitsch. “My kitchen manager decided that grilled cheese is good to try. It’s nice because it doesn’t take up a lot of BBQ area, which is especially important when we’re busy. “
And while the franchise can typically hold 90 people, Tobitsch said the delivery side of the business was already on the upswing before covid-19 made this a practical necessity.
City Works at PPG Place Downtown also found itself moving from the ghost kitchen Secret Sauce with an emphasis on grilling from a seated seat to a wider range of service approaches.
“We’d been aware of ghost kitchens for a while, but when we found we could serve them from our own footprint, it was a really exciting thought,” said Angela Zoiss, marketing director for bottleneck management at Chicago restaurant group who drove the operates nine City Works locations nationwide.
The secret sauce started at the site of the King of Prussia by City Works. Within two weeks it spread to Restaurant Gaithersburg, Md. The Pittsburgh branch opened on December 14th.
“The advantage is that there is no new overhead,” said Zoiss. “The staff is already in the building and you let your chefs get creative.”
At the local Smokey Bones franchises, culinary manager JD Rau said his wing experience began as a ghost kitchen at the Robinson location but quickly evolved and expanded.
“It only started through DoorDash or UberEats at first,” said Rau. “We’ve since updated it so people can order it and pick it up on the side of the road.”
Halling estimates that 60% of PghGhostOne’s business is done through third-party apps like GrubHub and UberEats.
“I realized it was a little more challenging than we first thought,” he said. “The third-party apps are not as friendly as we thought.”
In the Franktuary, Tobitsch said that every third party vendor has their own digital tablet that takes the counter and places orders. He decided to use a service called OrderMark to consolidate a bit and keep his kitchen running as smoothly as possible.
“Everything comes in a single tablet and prints (meal) tickets. That streamlines things a lot, ”he said.
Halling said that for PghGhostOne, the economy of a ghost kitchen works as long as the order volume is right.
“But you also have to be able to keep up with that volume,” he said. “If I am naturally busy because of Lent and our Lent menu – pierogi, fish sandwiches – I don’t really need the DoorDash and GrubHub business at the same time, so you can be slammed from all sides.”
Tobitsch shares the earnings of HotBox by Wiz and Grilled Cheese Society with NextBite.
“You pay for all of the marketing. We pay the food bills, ”he said. “It would be the sweet spot if I had the time to create my own concept and keep 100% of the sales, but there is something to be said for adding partners with a little more experience.”
However, the third-party apps can occasionally affect restaurants that they don’t even use. When searching for Delmont’s Ianni’s pizza restaurant on GrubHub, it clearly shows a Thai menu. This forced Ianni’s to recently post a Facebook message clarifying that they were not affiliated with the listing.
Make a name
When Taco Joe’s opened in late December, Valley Dairy was pleasantly surprised to raise $ 1,000 in the first week.
“We really relied on social media,” said Wyant. “We did some things on Facebook and a lot of questions about ‘Where do you find? “Receive.”
Blystone said the concept of serving take-away or delivery-only food from a restaurant’s kitchen that is not on that restaurant’s seating menu has occasionally created a bit of confusion.
“You can’t come to Valley Dairy and order a taco,” she said.
Wyant said that worked to her advantage.
“You wouldn’t believe all of the BS people threw at us first,” he said. “They wanted to see the health certificate and only beat us left and right. But it also piqued their curiosity when I answered all of their questions. “
Halling said he was considering breaking down PghGhostOne’s menu to create multiple ghost concepts.
“My menu is too big,” he said. “And if you have three or four ‘restaurants’ in those third-party apps, that will show up more as people browse the area.”
According to Zoiss, Secret Sauce’s ghost kitchens make up 30% of City Works’ off-premises business.
“We’re really happy to see that and it shows that there is definitely interest,” said Zoiss. “Right now we have six and we plan to open more as we can open restaurants again here in Illinois.”
Tobitsch said that the ghost kitchen is not only an additional source of income, but also a market-oriented creation.
“As a foodie myself, it’s not exactly the dining experience I would want. But at the end of the day we answer our customers, and certainly more and more people are choosing to order food this way, ”he said. “I used to be a little hostile to delivery-only services. But since we honestly had all of these food restrictions I don’t know where we would be without them. “