Fast Food

National Chains Get In on the Ghost Kitchen Action

Courtesy Dog Haus
Dog Haus is one of the restaurant groups getting in on the ghost kitchen action.
Smokin' Ace just started selling sausages, sandwiches and other eats from its delivery-only kitchen inside the massive new CloudKitchens facility at 810 Vallejo Street. It was one of the first ventures to launch there, but the facility can host some fifty food businesses, so other outfits like Combi Tacos and Meta Asian Kitchen (which has its original location inside Avanti Food & Beverage) are now joining in the fun, with many more to come.

CloudKitchens, founded by former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, is one of several new ghost-kitchen businesses opening in multiple cities. ChefReady is another, with ten kitchens available at 1468 South Cherokee Street. The model targets relatively inexpensive properties in centrally located areas of cities, allowing third-party delivery companies easy access to heavily populated neighborhoods. So your tacos, noodles, hot dogs and more could all be emanating from the same location.
click to enlarge ChefReady invites chefs to share their creativity for food-delivery customers. - COURTESY OF CHEFREADY
ChefReady invites chefs to share their creativity for food-delivery customers.
Courtesy of ChefReady
But these big, warehouse-style facilities aren't the only way that businesses are getting into the ghost-kitchen game. Last year, Dog Haus, a hot dog chain based in California, added several new concepts as part of The Absolute Brands, its lineup of virtual restaurants. As a result, if you order food from Dog Haus, Bad Mutha Clucka, Plant B or Bad-Ass Breakfast Burritos, it's all coming from the same location, at 8316 Northfield Boulevard. The Absolute Brands also runs a few other brands that have yet to hit the Denver market, including Huevos Dias and Freiburger.

Thirsty Lion Gastropub & Grill, the English-style pub group out of Portland, Oregon, is also testing the ghost-kitchen waters with a new "online food hall" called Central Kitchen. Thirsty Lion's Denver outpost, at 1605 Wynkoop Street (right next to Union Station), is playing host to the Central Kitchen project, so you can order from Soy Joy Kitchen (which makes rice bowls, sushi, ramen and other Asian dishes), Southern Jewel (specializing in fried chicken and Nashville hot chicken), Killer Wings, and Pizza and Spice. Thirsty Lion's four new concepts are available for takeout as well as delivery, allowing you to grab food on the go if you live nearby.
click to enlarge A few of the offerings from Thirsty Lion's new ghost kitchens. - COURTESY OF CENTRAL KITCHEN ONLINE FOOD HALL
A few of the offerings from Thirsty Lion's new ghost kitchens.
Courtesy of Central Kitchen Online Food Hall
Not to be left out in the cold is Nathan's Famous, the New York hot dog company that's been turning out wieners since 1916. Nathan's is offering partnerships in which existing restaurants can host two different ghost-kitchen concepts; the company says the investment is under $3,000 for participating restaurants. The original Nathan's Famous menu comprises the well-known hot dogs as well as fried chicken sandwiches, crinkle-cut fries, hot honey half chickens, burgers, Pat LaFrieda's New York cheesesteaks and milkshakes. The other offering is called Wings of New York, cooking up chicken wings in a dozen different sauces, plus tenders and other chicken dishes, Belgian-style waffles, shoestring fries.

The ghost-kitchen trend was already well under way even before the coronavirus pandemic, but dining room closures and capacity restrictions have forced restaurateurs to think outside the box — while staying inside one kitchen. Denver's dining scene is known for its independent chefs and restaurateurs using local ingredients to put out unique food; ghost kitchens allow talented chefs to try out new projects with minimal financial risk. But there's also the risk that they'll get lost amid all the national competition — and customers may not know the difference.

If your goal is to support local businesses while indulging in the convenience of delivery grub, it pays to do a quick online search to see if the chicken sandwiches, burgers or hot dogs you're ordering are being served in other cities, too.