Food News

Are Ghost Kitchens Part of Our Dining Future?

A spread from Sweet Basil Thai Kitchen, which has no dining room at all.
A spread from Sweet Basil Thai Kitchen, which has no dining room at all. Steven Monacelli
If you’re one for ordering in, you may have noticed a new addition to on-demand apps in early January: Meatball Kitchen. You may have even tried its vegan Impossible meatball sub with polenta fries and arancini mozzarella tots.

Or perhaps, more recently, you noticed the addition of Sweet Basil Thai Kitchen in early August and tried the spicy peanut curry, the fresh papaya salad or the fall-off-the-bone, sticky tamarind pork ribs. In either case, you may have thought to yourself, “this is great, I should try it out in person some time.” But this thought would be in vain. Not for the sake of pandemic precautions — for better or worse, most have reopened — but for a somewhat spooky reason.

Though not operating out of a haunted kitchen, Meatball Kitchen and Sweet Basil Thai Kitchen are delivery- and pickup-only ghost kitchens. Both are created and managed by Kitchen to Kitchen, a New York-based restaurant group, which intends to launch three other restaurant concepts in the Dallas area before the end of the year. These “phantom” operations are operating out of Revolving Kitchen, a local commissary kitchen in Garland that manages 25 commercial kitchens available for rent.

Ghost kitchens are restaurants that serve delivery (and sometimes pickup) clients through third-party apps such as Uber Eats and DoorDash. While this is not necessarily a new concept, it is a rapidly growing part of a broader, delivery-first trend transforming the restaurant industry.

Over the past three years, ghost kitchens and virtual restaurants have grown from industry niche to a central part of the on-demand delivery food ecosystem.

Entrepreneurs, newcomers and established players alike are all looking toward higher-volume delivery kitchens with smaller footprints to cope with increasingly slim margins.

This transition has been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made indoor dining more difficult and placed a new premium on delivery.

click to enlarge
A meatball sub on the go.
Steven Monacelli
But not all food is made to travel, nor are all restaurant spaces set up to handle delivery orders, and almost every delivery consumer has had at least one disappointing experience.

Quality and time to delivery are key issues for delivery food, but for restaurants lacking a dining room full of people and facing stiff competition online, developing strategies to mitigate these complications is crucial.

Solutions to such problems are at the forefront of the Kitchen to Kitchen strategy, which emphasizes food made to travel. Menu items were created with delivery logistics in mind and are served in either biodegradable or high-quality, reusable packaging.

These intentional changes allow customers to enjoy their meals in the condition the chef intended, and it makes leftover storage and picnicking just a bit easier.

I was able to try a few of the offerings from both restaurant concepts. True to their word, the food was fresh and delicious, and the quality packaging kept the leftovers well. I particularly enjoyed the Sticky Ribs, which literally fall off the bone, as well as the vegan-friendly, Impossible Meatball sub (so good it would likely fool a carnivore).

Delivery is available every day in the Garland/Lake Highlands area for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Pickup is available at Revolving Kitchen, 520 Shepherd Drive in Garland.
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Steven Monacelli has been contributing to the Dallas Observer since 2020. He regularly covers local social movements and occasionally writes about food.
Contact: Steven Monacelli