She is proud to be the first female and black oyster bar in Marylandand to make Urban Oyster a safe place for the Black and LGBTQ community. She hosted drag brunches and karaoke evenings. She keeps the ghost kitchen running because she doesn’t want to lose what she built and hopes to get Urban Oyster back into a stationary operation this summer.
But others rely on ghost kitchens in the longer term. Companies like reef, which were founded in 2013 as a car park, rent out kitchen spaces, find or develop restaurant concepts and sell the groceries by take-out and delivery.
Reef creates its own brands and sometimes works with local chefs. A year ago the company had 50 kitchens in 18 cities. Growth has exploded since the pandemic – it’s there now 120 kitchens in 21 cities.
Reef’s ghost kitchens are not there to introduce customers to something new, but rather to give them what they already want. The company develops its concepts by searching delivery and demographic data or taking over an existing restaurant, standardizing the menu, and training chefs to rinse and repeat. No menus that change daily based on what looks good in the market or ingredients that come from a tiny spice shop overseas. To some chefs like Mota, this sounds like the industry’s death knell. “I find it so impersonal to just cook take away,” he says. “It’s like losing your soul. It’s just not a restaurant. “
However, Alan Philips, Reef’s chief creative officer, sees the business not only as good for the future of the industry, but also as a way for smaller mom and pop restaurants that aren’t necessarily tech savvy to survive. “I see us as a platform that makes it possible,” he says, working with these restaurants to make their concept scalable. For most of the restaurants Reef works with, profit margins could increase by 5 to 10 percent.
The company is driving what he calls the “coming creative renaissance of the restaurant industry,” where anyone with a great idea can open a restaurant without investing a million dollars and actually make it sustainable and profitable.
For some independent restaurants that work with Reef, this proposal has caught on. Not only do they survive, they grow.
William Bornhorst opened the door Five TacoBar– a chipotle-like fast-casual restaurant – in Livermore, California, in 2018. Shortly after he started a french fry pop-up called Man against fries Operation of Cinco TacoBar. Man vs. Fries was instantly popular, so he looked for other restaurant kitchens to show up in. Most places, except Reef, turned him down. He has now opened 15 ghost kitchens across the country for Man vs. Fries, with plans to open more. He earns a royalty percentage from total sales (he refused to disclose the percentage) – and sales have grown by a factor of five since the pandemic began.
Reef finds the best locations, real estate, and staff; All he has to do is exercise. Expanding outside of your local market “costs an awful lot of money and that’s before you find the location and sign the lease,” he says. At Reef, the risk is very low.