Spooked by soaring rents, wages and the stiff fees charged by food-delivery apps, a handful of New York restaurateurs are setting up “ghost kitchens.”
Charlie Yi, founder and CEO of Zoku Sushi in the East Village, has tapped a team of Nobu-trained chefs to prepare top-quality sushi — and thrown them into a 500-square-foot kitchen that’s behind an unmarked door at 42 St. Mark’s Pl.
No, you can’t sit down and eat there, and no, you can’t even pick up your order there. Instead, a team of delivery guys employed by Zoku are circulating in and out to bring sackfuls of sashimi, nagiri and miso to your door.
“Since we don’t have a restaurant or service staff, we can deliver that value to our customer and spend money on top chefs,” Yi says.
A ghost kitchen doesn’t necessarily have to be built from scratch. Australian-born restaurateur Barry Dry, who owns the Hole in the Wall eateries in Murray Hill and FiDi, has launched the delivery-only brand Ghost Burger, which uses Hole in the Wall’s Murray Hill kitchen to crank out its burgers.
“Maximizing the use of your kitchen is important if you want to be profitable,” says Dry, whose Parched Hospitality Group also operates Sugar Momma and its members-only rooftop pool and social club, The Sentry.
“I’m running this out of my established restaurants, so there really isn’t any overhead,” Dry added. “It’s not a side hustle, because the restaurant would survive without it. It’s more that people are already in the kitchen.”
Taking the thinking a step further, an outfit called Zuul Kitchens opened a 5,000-square-foot facility in Soho last month. Zuul’s kitchen-only tenants will get services ranging from “dishwashing to dispatch.” Sweetgreen, Junzi and Naya are among those who have signed up, according to Zuul’s site.
Look for more such “cloud kitchens” to pop up in the year ahead, says Alan Moore, founder and partner of Virtual Restaurant Consulting. Menus, he added, are also very specific for delivery-only outfits.
“You can’t deliver medium rare steaks, for example,” Moore said. “And what people want delivered at 2 a.m. is very different from what they’d order in a restaurant.”
The kitchen-only idea first rose to prominence in 2015 with Maple, a delivery service backed by celebrity chef David Chang. Despite a hard-core following, Maple folded two years later. There were hardly any delivery-only services at the time, and Maple was never able to create the right balance between quality and price, according to Yi.
“Maple was run by savvy, tech-driven entrepreneurs, but they were not turned on to the food piece,” Yi said.
Maple went belly-up in 2017 after raising more than $30 million. Zoku, meanwhile, has raised $5 million thus far, says investor Josh Brooks. And while Maple had gotten famous for burning cash, Zoku, which opened its kitchen in February, turned break-even within four months, according to its proprietor.
Zoku plans to open five to six digital kitchens in New York and eventually roll out to the top 15 cities in the US. Keeping rent costs below 5 percent of sales helps, as does dealing in sushi, which doesn’t require a full kitchen, according to Yi.
Another key piece of the strategy: shunning food-delivery apps like Seamless and Uber Eats, whose fees can eat as much as 30 percent of a customer’s bill. Instead, Zoku employs its own delivery team, which handles about “99 percent” of orders, according to Yi.
Those include five pieces of yellowtail sashimi for $14, and a combo box with seven pieces of nigiri and one cut roll for $18.
“We don’t want to rely on Seamless. We are building our own high-end sushi brand and going around them,” Yi said. “We are to restaurants what Warby Parker is to eyeglasses, what Everlane is to fashion, and what Caspar is to mattresses. We have a brand, and the internet is our storefront.”
… that golfer and on-air golf commentator Nick Faldo, “Iron Chef” Geoffrey Zakarian and veteran event marketer Herb Karlitz are hosting the first celebrity chef golf tournament at the Alpine Country Club on Monday. The group includes chefs Michael Symon, Daniel Boulud and Ming Tsai, and will benefit New York City-based City Harvest
… that Li-Lac Chocolates is opening at 75 Greenwich Ave., its sixth outlet in the city. The 800-square-foot shop features a chocolate tempering wheel to churn out dark chocolate almond bark, a hot chocolate bar, and a 14-foot chocolate case displaying their signature hits like butter crunch and French mints. The original Li-Lac opened in 1923
… that party czarina Carmen D’Alessio attended the opening of I Love Panzerotti at the Gansevoort Market. Owners Angelo Magni and Giovanni Bonati give 10 cents from every panzerotto to Mary’s Meals, which feeds children globally.
Source: Read Full Article