Ghost kitchens aren't a substitute for restaurants, where a meal is as much of a social occasion as a means of sustenance. Think of the delivery-only businesses that have become even more popular during the pandemic than they were before as alternatives to pizza or Chinese food — long the standards in the delivery world.
So when a newcomer like Snacktacular, set to debut on September 7, enters the fray, it isn't taking the place of your favorite eateries, it's just giving you more choices when you're too tired, busy or stoned to cook — or leave the house.
Lex Mendez, one half of Snacktacular, says he first learned about ghost kitchens while working at a sushi restaurant in Chicago. "The owner asked me to take a box to the back room, and I opened the door into a 'secret' kitchen making Mexican food for delivery," Mendez explains. It turned out that the sushi bar owner wasn't making much money serving Japanese food, so he was supplementing his income through Grubhub taco and burrito deliveries.
Mendez moved to Denver two years ago (after spending timing cooking in Alaska) and worked at Meadowlark Kitchen before getting a job at RiNo Beer Garden, where he became friends with executive chef Neil Millon. After COVID-19 hit Denver, the two began making plans to open their own delivery-only kitchen serving what Mendez calls "New American street food," inspired by his Chicago and Latino roots and Millon's Filipino-Hawaiian background.
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"Working in restaurants, you meet people with a lot of different talents," Mendez notes. So he put together a "ragtag team" of friends to help with various aspects of creating Snacktacular, including a specialist in digital marketing who helped with the web design, while he and Millon threw in about $10,000 to get the project off the ground.
The menu, executed in a commissary kitchen near Colorado Boulevard and East 40th Avenue, will offer Hawaiian classics like loco moco and bento boxes with chicken, ahi tuna poke or marinated skirt steak, along with a few unique items that the two partners brainstormed while appreciating each other's home-cooking photos. One is a chorizo gravy calzone, taking the Chicago Italian classic and loading it up with queso quesadilla and chorizo gravy, which Mendez says his grandmother used to make for breakfast. There will also be "sweet and savory" mole chicken wings and a mushroom grilled cheese sandwich built on purple bread that Millon and Mendez developed together. The color comes from ube, a purple sweet potato that also gives the bread a light and fluffy texture like potato bread.
Mendez says everything will be priced at $12 or less, and they'll also be selling Denver Chip Co. chips. Find ourt more on snacktacular.rocks, which includes an ordering system is being built on ChowNow's platform. The plan, he says, is to launch on Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats to help get the word out to as many people as possible.