It may be too early to think about Halloween, but there’s a “ghost kitchen” in Lebanon County.
Actually, the concept has nothing to do with goblins, jack-o’-lanterns or trick or treating. It’s when a brick-and-mortar restaurant allows another restaurant, which has no physical presence in the area, to use its kitchen for preparing food for delivery.
In Lebanon, the Ruby Tuesday at 1351 Quentin Road is a ghost kitchen for The Captain’s Boil, a seafood franchise based in Canada. Food from The Captain’s Boil is available through delivery platforms like Grubhub, Uber Eats, and DoorDash.
It is also available for dine-in and take-out eating at Ruby Tuesday itself.
NRD Capital, out of Atlanta, owns Ruby Tuesday, The Captain’s Boil and other restaurant chains. The managing partner of the company, Aziz Hashim, created Franklin Junction, which connects eateries that want to expand into new markets and other restaurants that want to act as ghost kitchens.
Franklin Junction was originally just for the 700-plus NRD-owned restaurants in North America, but COVID-19 changed that.
“We decided to take this step and let everybody have this now,” Hashim told Restaurant Business. “If a restaurant can benefit from our platform, it may save many restaurants and many jobs.”
In the Restaurant Business interview, he compared Franklin Junction to a combination of Match.com and Airbnb. The company matches restaurants interested in trying out new markets with ghost, or host, kitchens. In turn, those existing restaurants fill excess capacity and make some money, too.
“Before, a kitchen might have had 20 percent to 30 percent extra capacity,” Hashim told Restaurant Business. “Now it has 70 percent,” because of the pandemic.
For the eatery that’s coming in and using the extra capacity, it’s a way to test new markets or new menu items without having to build a physical restaurant, which is costly.
NRD Capital is expecting more than 1,000 ghost kitchens across the U.S. by the end of 2020.
Technomic is projecting major jumps in ghost kitchen sales through 2025, meaning the trend won’t go away when COVID-19 has passed.
Will Delavan, associate professor of economics at Lebanon Valley College, said the ghost kitchen concept is “really brilliant.”
On one hand, he said, it’s a “great way to use excess capacity” while saving capital by not having to build a restaurant on the other.
Kimberlee Josephson, an associate professor of business administration and associate dean of the Breen Center for Graduate Success at LVC, described ghost kitchens as part of a “whole new landscape” in dining.
One issue could be if customers, who are creatures of habit, feel strange getting food from one eatery (The Captain’s Boil) that’s prepared and delivered from the kitchen of another (Ruby Tuesday), she said.
What will probably matter more, however, is that the food is “coming from a regulated kitchen they do know,” Josephson said.
From a business standpoint, ghost kitchens are a good approach for restaurants to leverage their assets and for franchises to gain a foothold in regions they haven’t been before, she said.
This keeps both businesses on their game, Josephson said, and gives consumers more options.
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