What Are Ghost Kitchens? (And Is There One in Your Neighborhood?)

updated Feb 11, 2020
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There’s something magical about getting your food delivered. You swipe through a few menus, tap-tap, click-click, and boom! There’s your banh mi. But, have you ever thought about where your dinner comes from before it appears at your door? We’re not living in the Jetsons age just yet, so the food has to actually be prepared somewhere. Increasingly, that somewhere is a commissary kitchen, otherwise (and more intriguingly) known as a ghost kitchen, dark kitchen, or cloud kitchen. (We do like our mysterious monikers.) 

Joining the dark grocery store trend, in which disused retail space serves as fulfillment centers for grocery delivery, ghost kitchens (or whatever you want to call them) are taking advantage of out-of-business malls and and other empty storefronts to prepare meals for delivery. Simply put, they are offshoot locations of restaurants that exist solely to fill delivery orders.

So, why do ghost kitchens exist? With food delivery growing by leaps and bounds, there’s not always enough room in often-cramped restaurant kitchens to handle the load and take care of customers who, you know, get out of their pajamas and make it to the dining room. Plus, real estate costs at these offshoot sites — often located away from trendy areas — can be substantially less than at a restaurant’s home location.

Big names like Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A are on board and lots of others in the industry are doubling down. Former Uber CEO and cofounder Travis Kalanick, for example, opened a San Francisco location for CloudKitchens, the start-up that transforms commercial space into shared kitchens. According to TechCrunch, this is one of the big players, but it’s far from the only example. Door Dash and Amazon are also getting in on the idea, and there’s even some dark grocery cross-over: Kroger is launching delivery of meals made in their own dark kitchens with ClusterTruck in Indianapolis, Columbus, Kansas City, Missouri, and Denver, according to Supermarket News

While controversy around delivery — from worker wages to restaurants that don’t offer delivery finding themselves fielding calls from impatient customers — never seems to subside, the demand for more and more things to be brought to our door isn’t going anywhere. And while not everyone’s a fan of dark grocery stores — Chipotle, in particular, says nah, instead employing a second make line in their restaurants, according to Business Insider — repurposing otherwise vacant space does seems like a win-win. We can’t use every empty mall for a great Netflix series set, so why not turn the space into a place that makes sure we’re doing better than a bowl of cereal for dinner?