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How To Run A Ghost Kitchen: The Pandemic Trend Helping Restaurants Cut Out Sit-Down Dining

Food from The Feed. (Courtesy)
Food from The Feed. (Courtesy)

When the pandemic hit, restaurants faced a spooky future full of uncertainty. That’s where ghost kitchens came in.

Without a seating area for customers to dine in, ghost kitchens produce food that’s almost immediately whisked away to be eaten elsewhere.

The concept grew in popularity during the pandemic with many diners ordering food for pickup or delivery. Ghost kitchens are expected to account for 21% of total restaurant sales over the next four years.

Chef Tristan Roley decided to launch his own ghost kitchen last September. The Feed in Logan, Ohio, posts a weekly menu on Facebook that includes dishes such as a shaved New York strip steak sandwich on ciabatta bread, cajun dusted puff battered shrimp and chicken ballotine.

Roley uses kitchen space inside a local Mexican restaurant called Maya Burrito Co. He shares the kitchen’s front line to do most of his cooking, while plating and serving take place in a separate area. And the chef relishes any opportunity to have the kitchen to himself on Sundays when Maya Burrito is closed.

“It’s still not, you know, the classical brick and mortar, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Roley says. “So it’s really important to get started somewhere, right?”

Roley runs The Feed all by himself, with the exception of bringing in a cashier on his busiest days.

As of the 2010 census, 7,152 people live in the town of Logan. Roley estimates that he serves 30 meals per day on average, but that number can climb above 60.

Despite the tiny space he works in, Roley doesn’t cut corners on his menu.

“I’m putting my name out there and putting my brand out there,” he says. “I want people to realize that this kind of food is being offered in such a small place and that it’s possible to do it even given the smallest circumstances.”

The Feed has 4,100 likes on Facebook — more than half the population of the town. Without a storefront to advertise the business, Roley relies on social media to bring in customers.

Locals have supported The Feed since its opening, the Logan native says, and bought lots of gift cards around the holiday season.

There’s no signature dish at The Feed because part of the idea is to frequently change the menu, he says.

One challenge he’s faced operating the ghost kitchen is that customers don’t immediately eat the food once he serves it. Roley doesn’t serve items like French fries, for example, because they’ll be cold and soggy by the time the customer drives home to eat.

“I’m somewhat limited in what I can and can’t serve and that can be frustrating at times,” he says. “I definitely look for food that is going to hit your table when you get home and be just as good as when you picked it up for me.”

When the pandemic comes to an end, Roley hopes to keep his ghost kitchen alive and grow the business in the future.

“When the mask mandate went down in Ohio, people were so eager to get out and get things going,” he says. “My prayers go out to all these struggling kitchens. And I really hope they’re able to push through. But, yeah, I definitely see a blossoming again.”

Restaurants know how to evolve to serve up new food trends and concepts, says Roley, who believes the rise in popularity of ghost kitchens was “inevitable.”

“I think we’re definitely moving into a new generation of people, how they want to eat and what they want to eat,” he says. “And I think the restaurants [are] used to evolving to that.”

Marcelle Hutchins produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Jill RyanAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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