THE GHOST CONCEPT
The ghost kitchen is a setup that has been around for generations and continues to be popular in the restaurant market. It consists of an outdoor grill, some tables with chairs, pots and pans stacked on top of each other near the wall, food storage containers underneath these utensils – all ready to go!
All kidding aside the ghost kitchen (AKA the virtual kitchen) could prove to be a great opportunity for the budding restaurant owner / operator. Compared to the traditional food service establishment, the ghost model could offer several benefits:
Smaller upfront investment
Faster entry into the market
Tap into a new market segment
Euromonitor estimates that ghost kitchens could be a 1 trillion dollar business by 2030. Not a bad concept to try out if you ask me.
THE GHOST LAYOUT
The image on the left is an existing gym that we converted into a commercial kitchen. The unit also had a set of stairs that leads up to the live/work apartment above.
As you can tell, trying to cram all of the necessary equipment into the existing space can be a challenge.
The individual ghost kitchen typically consists of the necessary prep/cooking/cleaning equipment, an accessible restroom, mop sink, and maybe an office space.
ADA compliant restrooms have very strict requirements that need to be taken into account when converting an existing space into a commercial kitchen. As you can see from the two images above, lots of clearances are required.
Another thing to look out for, when converting an existing space into a commercial kitchen, is that a grease trap will most likely be required by the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction). Most grease traps are put in under the slab (in new construction), but there options that don’t require busting up the slab. A cost effective option for renovations is an above ground grease trap. They tend to look like this after they have been installed.
The grease trap is a device designed to capture FOG (Fats, Oils, and Greases) before they enter the wastewater system. The interior traps are generally located in the kitchen near the sink or dishwasher and tend to hold smaller amounts of FOG. Exterior traps are located outside the building, underground and tend to be much larger, holding thousands of gallons. Many jurisdictions will require grease traps to be used in commercial kitchens due to the critical role they play in preventing costly sewer problems.
THE GHOST TYPES
According to Foodservice Equipment magazine there are 5 different types of ghost kitchens:
The restaurant with no seats – This configuration is preferred by traditional restaurants that just want to get into the delivery game.
Multi-brand kitchens – This is where all the brands are owned by a single company.
Commissary kitchen – Coworking for kitchens.
Kitchen as a service – Multi-operator shared kitchens.
Multiple brands single operator.
THE GHOST BENEFIT
The ghost kitchens typically have smaller footprints and are more efficient, as they include additional prep areas. They also offer pickup windows directly into the kitchen to create better flow for customers who want a closer look at what goes on behind-the-scenes.
Depending on the menu being served they can go in almost anywhere, and be a great way to test out a new market / product without the overhead of a traditional restaurant. The ghost kitchen could be up and running in as little as three to four weeks as opposed to six to eight months for a traditional restaurant. It’s true, opening a ghost kitchen can be tough, but in order to promote and establish local awareness for your brand, extensive use of social media is a great tool to accomplish this. This includes creating an Instagram account with high-quality content that reflects the visual style of your company and sharing it regularly on Facebook or Twitter as well!
Restaurant design and development magazine interviewed the owners of Cat-Su Sando which opened up in a virtual kitchen in Chicago. Their initial investment was around $15,000 to get the concept up and running. According to the article it does sound like the owners had to do some serious scavenging in order to get the most bang for their buck in terms of equipment.
After operating out of the virtual kitchen they decided to lease out some space in a building that was owned by their broker. They were still operating as a ghost kitchen at this point. In comparison to the 250 SF that they had at the commissary, they now had 3,000 SF with a storefront. Their end game is to open up a traditional restaurant with all the bells and whistles.
In a lot of ways this sounds just like what other budding entrepreneurs would do. You start off in a co-working space while building up a client/customer base with little overhead. After you’ve established the company you then find a legit space to operate out of!
What are your thoughts on the ghost kitchen as another revenue stream for an existing company? As a way for a start up to get into the restaurant industry? As young startup myself, I am particularly interested in this model as a way for entrepreneurs to get into the game with less risk than with the traditional methods.
If you’re someone interested in getting into the restaurant owner/operator game, let me know your thoughts below!