Food & DrinkFood Features

Ghost Kitchens Could Be the Next Big Thing After COVID-19

Coronavirus closures give restaurateurs practice in delivery

The following story originally ran at Unpretentious Palate, a local food media outlet that features restaurant reviews, news, recipes, guides and more. Be sure to check them out when you get a chance, and consider this story on ghost kitchens the appetizer.

With the introduction of food delivery services such as DoorDash and Grubhub, consumers have changed their expectations of delivery. No longer is it only pizza or Chinese food arriving to your front door; you can order dishes from restaurants across town — with or without the restaurant’s consent to have their food delivered. As diners remain eating mostly at home, however, restaurants have shifted focus to takeout and delivery. In many cases, restaurants are delivering food themselves, even creating ghost kitchens to do so, and cutting out the costs of a third-party delivery service.

A ghost kitchen is a kitchen with no front-of-house staff or dining room. The restaurant’s presence is mainly virtual, either providing delivery itself or using the visibility of food delivery apps to sell their product. Few restaurants in Charlotte are set up to serve food that travels well. That’s changing now, as owners look to maintain some revenue by selling food to go.

The team behind The Goodyear House, including executive chef Chris Coleman, launched a ghost concept called Scratch House Chicken out of The Goodyear House in NoDa. By creating new concepts with different menus and branding offered online, they can cover diners looking for different cuisines as they scroll through delivery sites. Scratch House serves fried and grilled chicken sandwiches, salads topped with chicken, and sides.

ghost kitchens
`Made from Scratch House Chicken. (Photo by Peter Taylor)

“Fried chicken has become everyday food; it used to be celebratory food,” Coleman says. “And it’s just extremely, it’s just delicious. Anything that’s battered and fried or coated in breading and fried is really, really good, but I think that for our particular time as well, people are just kind of craving comfort food.”

The fried chicken sold out the first weekend in business, and the restaurant has had to adjust hours to keep up with the delivery demand and manage regular operations of The Goodyear House.

Jeff Tonidandel, who owns Haberdish, Growler’s Pourhouse, and Crepe Cellar with his wife Jamie Brown, believes once we’re on the other side of the pandemic, there will be a lot of opportunity for those looking to open a ghost kitchen.

With another restaurant on the way, he’s been considering the idea of a commissary kitchen that makes some regular products for the kitchens, as well as acts as a place to do research and development.

“It’s really hard to get the kind of R&D done that we want to get done during service and while we’re working,” Tonidandel says. “It would be a little more focused if we could have a place to do that, but it’s really expensive to do that and not worth the investment.”

If the space could become a ghost kitchen in the evenings, however, that would offset that investment. The ideal space, Tonidandel says, would be a chain restaurant right near the highway in a neighborhood with low rent. That way, you can still serve affluent diners without paying to be in a high-rent area.

Coming out of the coronavirus outbreak, Tonidandel believes spaces like this will be easy to come by — and his restaurant team will be well versed in food to go.

“We’re definitely getting a lot more practice at these types of things, we’re getting more comfortable with it,” he says. “So, yeah, it’s definitely a thought.”

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