Willamette Week has a long piece about the growth - and now, the apparent retreat - of the ghost kitchen business ion Portland, Oregon.
Here's how WW frames the story:
"A few years ago, restaurants started sprouting up in Portland like toadstools, with names like Mr. Beast Burger, Sticky Wings and Man vs. Fries. They served smash burgers, hot wings, and cheese fries to patrons ordering with a tap of their phones.
"None of these places really existed—at least, not in the way people usually think of restaurants. They were “ghost kitchens,” where one or more cooks prepare as many as seven kinds of cuisine at commissary kitchens, brick-and-mortar restaurants and, in some cases, food trucks. At the edge of an empty parking lot. All for delivery only.
"On apps like Uber Eats and Grubhub, ghost kitchens overwhelmed Portland’s brick-and-mortar restaurants floundering in the pandemic … And in this city, more than a quarter of the ghost kitchens appear to be run by one company: a privately held Miami-based corporation called Reef Technology, which likes to put ghost kitchens in trailers, or vessels as it calls them, and place them in parking lots around the city."
But now, Reef seems to be in retreat, closing down a number of its ghost kitchens amid questions about the expertise of its staff, the conditions in which food was being prepared, and the viability of the long-term economic assumptions upon which the business was being built.
You can read the entire piece here.
- KC's View:
I've always thought that there is a place for ghost kitchens, but it seems to me that a couple of things have happened here.
One is that the concept and its progenitors have slammed into the same headwinds as every other e-commerce and tech company. Accelerated by the pandemic, but now dealing with inflation and a recessionary mindset. Some retrenchment was inevitable.
But, if you read the story, there's something else at work here - Reef appears to be a company driven by ambition, hubris and greed, without realizing that a dedication to food quality and authentic community relations was necessary to make its ghost kitchens work.
I still think there is promise in the concept, but the positioning and priorities have to be right.