Ghost kitchens, those elusive restaurants designed for the rapidly expanding delivery service segment, have reached beyond the realm of well-known restaurants and cafés. Recently, Bon Appétit, one of the top food and lifestyle magazines, entered the virtual restaurant arena.
Yes, a magazine is now open for food delivery.
Of course, if any magazine would make their way into this segment, it would be Bon Appétit. They seem to be on the cutting edge when it comes to skirting the boarders between word scribes and active participants in the food and beverage industry.
First came Bon Appétit’s You Tube channel that amassed 3.1 million subscribers and led to stardom for chef’s Claire Saffitz and Brad Leone. February 2019 saw the ambitious Condé Nast publication launch a streaming channel that included the back catalog of Jamie Oliver’s series The Naked Chef.
Now, they’ve combined their resources with Grubhub and Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises—a Chicago-based, 130-unit multi-concept restaurant group that is home to some of the city’s most popular brands including Café Ba-Ba-Reeba and Wow Bao—to create their first ghost restaurant called Bon Appétit, Delivered.
What to Expect
All the dishes are prepared by the famed magazines Test Kitchen editors. They’re serving up items such as Crispy-Skinned Chicken Thighs, Warm Honey Glazed Brussel Sprouts, Sambal Chicken Skewers, and Cider Braised Pork Shoulder with Butternut Squash. If you’d like to keep up with their ever-changing, seasonal menu, here’s the link.
You will be paying moderately for what is considered a gourmet brand. Main courses fall between $15 and $25—a little on the high side for delivery-only brands, a little on the low side for an award-winning magazine known for its recipe testing and innovation, and one that has graced coffee tables since 1956.
This isn’t the first time Grubhub and LEYE have partnered up with a virtual kitchen model in the Chicago area. In August of 2019, Whole30 Delivered emerged—a virtual restaurant based on meals approved by the Whole30 lifestyle diet that emphasizes whole foods. Entrees include Melissa’s Buffalo Chicken Salad and Thai Chicken-Coconut-Curry Soup that incorporates Amish chicken breast, shitake mushrooms, spinach, lemongrass, and green scallions. All of their offerings fall into the unique and health-conscious cuisine category.
Whole30 is a trending concept that currently has meal delivery or restaurant partners in every state in the lower 48. Their dietary bottom line is this: no sugar, no grains, no legumes, and no dairy. Even Chipotle is offering “lifestyle bowls” designed with the Whole30 diet in mind. Brands such as this, with a large, expanding presence, are perfect for the ghost kitchen model.
While experiencing astonishing growth, virtual kitchens are just beginning to make their mark in the restaurant market. Who knew that restaurants would one day exist only on a mobile app?
So, just what is the draw?
For restaurateurs, it can be a matter of minimizing costs and maximizing their presence. For customers, it involves speed, ease, and the ability to try the new and unusual from the comfort of their own couch. Justin McCoy, Vice President of Marketing for Cousins Subs, explained the effects of the winter season in Wisconsin to CNBC, “There’s six to seven months of winter a year, and no one wants to leave.”
This could be one of the many reasons that Red Lobster is negotiating its first ghost kitchen in the Midwest.
Convenience is, apparently, worth the cost. Consumers spent 42 percent more money on food delivery in 2018 than the previous year—a whopping $10.2 billion. One of the big dogs in this segment is Kitchen United which plans to open up to 400 virtual spaces in the next four years.
While seemingly risk free, there are those virtual restaurants that have not stood the test of time. When Red Robin Gourmet Burgers tested a delivery-only model in Chicago, the virtual site found its doors closed within six months. While minimizing rent and other costs, the truth is that third-party delivery fees can cost as much as 30 percent—a high price in a business with profit margins that can range from 3 to 5 percent. Other companies that have shut down include Sprig and Green Summit Group who had locations in Chicago as well as New York.
Like any new endeavor, it’s a matter of trial, error, and sometimes reward. It’s clear that with the current interest from venture capitalists, we’ll be seeing these virtual kitchen concepts sprout up like flowers after a spring rain. We look forward to the new and unusual, and a Sambal Chicken Skewer from Bon Appétit.