The term ghost kitchen has many synonyms - virtual kitchen, cloud kitchen, shadow kitchen, the list goes on. Ghost kitchens are loosely defined as any commercial kitchen facility where meals are prepared exclusively for delivery. Since the start of the pandemic, the concept has grown in popularity and new iterations are springing up to meet the needs of a restaurant industry in turmoil. Propelled by the growth of food delivery apps, ghost kitchens are quickly moving from brick and mortar alternative to primary solution. The term ghost kitchen may already be insufficient as a catchall for the breadth of what we're seeing with this movement.
Here are 9 companies shaping the future of food with unique ghost kitchen business models:
REEF, founded in Miami, began as a parking lot management service. Today they leverage real estate to offer a variety of solutions - including ghost kitchens. REEF licenses restaurant brands and produces the menu items with their own staff, paying partners monthly through a revenue sharing model. Operating in stand alone kitchen units housed in strategically located lots, REEF enables brands to extend their reach and optimize for delivery service. They currently operate roughly 100 kitchens in 20 different markets.
For traditional restaurants, Zuul acts as guide to the ghost kitchen world. Besides providing kitchen space, infrastructure and operational support through a membership model, Zuul has its own digital marketplace to help drive demand. Member restaurants can also work with Zuul to develop new virtual concepts. Recently the company launched Zuul Market, a virtual food hall with a unique delivery model - individual drivers bring multiple orders from multiple brands to a single location within a preset delivery window.
Launched by SBE Entertainment Group, C3 creates and operates its own delivery-only brands in major cities throughout the country. When the pandemic accelerated and indoor dining declined, they began leasing underused and shuttered kitchens in malls, hotels, and nightclubs as demand for delivery increased. C3 routinely partners with internationally-renowned chefs to help them launch their own virtual concepts.
Founded by Uber cofounder and former CEO Travis Kalanick in 2016, CloudKitchens is a notoriously tight lipped outfit with little to no consumer-facing activity. Over the past two years the company has secured over 40 properties in multiple cities including restaurants, auto shops and warehouses. Cloud Kitchens rents kitchen space to restauranteurs, reducing startup costs and facilitating the launch of new concepts within weeks.
The Local Culinary
The Local Culinary offers what it calls the first ghost kitchen franchise model. They've developed over 50 delivery-only concepts, engineered cost-effective menus based on market demand, and frequently update menu items according to trends. Restauranteurs, or franchisees, select the concept(s) they'd like to run out of their kitchen, then The Local Culinary trains staff and helps with setup. Franchises are up and running within days.
Currently operating out of 8 states, Kitchen United focuses on brand expansion, offering a turnkey method for established restaurants to build their off-premise presence. They own large commercial facilities, each of which houses multiple brands. Beyond infrastructural support, Kitchen United offers its tenants tech solutions and customer data through its online ordering platform.
Launched in April 2020 by the parent company of Ruby Tuesday and Frisch's Big Boy, Franklin Junction plays matchmaker to restaurants with extra kitchen space and restaurants looking to expand. It's an idea they've dubbed "host kitchens". A single restaurant becomes a host, via it's kitchen, to other brands. Franklin Junction carefully pairs hosts with interested restaurants, then oversees the production and curation of everything from new menu items, meal kits, and pre-packaged foods.
Nextbite turns underused kitchens into fulfillment centers for it's in-house food concepts. They develop menus based on popular items in different regions, then launch virtual concepts in partnership with restaurants best equipped to produce those menus. Nextbite has launched high profile concepts like Hotbox by Wiz with Wiz Khalifa. Their growth is aided by the industry expertise of parent company Ordermark, a platform that allows restaurants to centralize orders from multiple delivery apps.
Kitchen Podular manufactures made to order kitchens for restaurant brands. Their modular pods are built to suit the needs of a single brand. They can build a stand alone, transportable kitchen unit or construct a kitchen out of an abandoned structure - like a car wash. Shapes, sizes and layouts vary but each unit is equipped with a delivery window and takeout window. The basic pod model starts at $100k.