Do you care if the food you just ordered for delivery isn't coming from a restaurant with a dining room? The growing number of ghost kitchens — food operations that offer menus for delivery primarily through third-party services such as Grubhub and Uber Eats — indicates that you don't, as long as the food is good. And more chefs don't care about looking out onto a room filled with diners, either, especially when that room comes with a hefty real estate bill.
Nili Malach Poynter and Robert Poynter, two San Francisco entrepreneurs with Denver roots, watched the Bay Area restaurant industry get hammered by high real estate prices and labor costs and observed the resulting growth of ghost kitchens there. So they decided to look around the country to see where the concept might make sense in another city. The result is ChefReady, which will open its first ghost-kitchen facility later this summer.
Nili Poynter was born and raised in Denver, and Robert grew up here, too. "We saw that there was a need in Denver, but the concept hasn't come here yet," she says of delivery-only kitchens. She and her husband teamed up with her brother, Steven Malach, to open ChefReady.
The company's first location will be a facility in Denver's Platt Park neighborhood with ten kitchens that average 200 to 250 square feet each. Each kitchen will come fully equipped with oven hoods, fire-suppression systems, sinks (both three-compartment and hand-washing) and other basic equipment, along with extra walk-in refrigerators and freezers, backup generators, cleaning services and pest control for the entire building. But ChefReady is more than just a commissary kitchen, according to its founders.
"We also offer technology to consolidate third-party apps, and we'll have food runners to expedite orders to waiting drivers," Poynter explains. The company also offers assistance with permitting and marketing to help chefs navigate city and state regulations and get their businesses started.
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"We're trying to create a community where chefs can become entrepreneurs," she adds. "You can do it with a low barrier of entry with low cost and low risk. And our technology will allow them to expand their brands and diversify their footprints."
The company expects the ten spaces to be filled by a combination of established chefs and restaurateurs looking to expand without the high start-up costs of building a new restaurant, and young chefs who may not have the name or reputation to attract big-money investors. Poynter describes the overall concept as "greener" and more efficient than standard restaurants, but with a "mom-and-pop" level of commitment to the chefs leasing space.
ChefReady is currently under construction, with a targeted completion in mid-July. The company has already begun looking for tenants, and Poynter says chefs should be able to get up and running in two to four weeks, once the facility is open and individual leases are signed.
Ghost kitchens will never replace sit-down restaurants for those who enjoy the social aspect of dining out, but the coronavirus pandemic has given rise to more demand for restaurant-quality food in the comfort of home. Businesses like ClusterTruck, which offers several different menus from the the same kitchen team and handles its own delivery, have started to take hold in Denver. And big-name restaurants including Bar Dough and Rioja have launched takeout-only side projects (Jabroni & Sons sandwiches and the Flavor Dojo lunch bowls, respectively). ChefReady represents another stage in the evolution of the restaurant business, as it keeps up with changing customer preferences.