- Food and drink publication Thrillist has teamed up with ghost kitchen operator Zuul to launch a rotating ghost kitchen in New York City that offers exclusive delivery-only dishes from some of the city's top chefs and restaurants. The rotational kitchen is open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings from Dec. 9 through April 16, according to a press release emailed to Restaurant Dive.
- A series of 10 restaurants will lead a two-week chef residency at the shared kitchen facility in the SoHo district, offering limited-edition meals for delivery. Thrillist will cover food, labor, packaging and delivery costs for the restaurants, and delivery orders will include a custom t-shirt, reusable bag, cutlery set and wine tumbler.
- Thrillist launched a documentary series in March highlighting how restaurants were navigating the COVID-19 pandemic called "Ghost Kitchen." Zuul's partnership could provide more visibility to the growing ghost kitchen concept, especially as the company raised $9 million in July to expand its footprint throughout New York City.
Zuul provides a "plug-and-play" infrastructure for restaurants with its kitchens, including a low-cost entry point of $25,000 to $75,000 versus $1 million for a traditional restaurant location. The company also claims that its locations launch in less than three months, versus nine to 12 months for a traditional restaurant; generate a payback period of less than six months, versus two to four years for a traditional restaurant; and employ four to eight people, versus 20 or more for a traditional restaurant. Those cost-saving attributes may be especially appealing to New York City's restaurant owners, since nearly 90% of area hospitality owners couldn't pay their full rent in August. That situation is likely to be even more dire now with local legislators calling for another full shutdown less than two months after dining rooms were allowed to reopen at 25% capacity.
Indeed, ghost kitchens and virtual kitchens have helped some independent restaurants stay afloat during shutdowns and other restrictions as they offer not only cost savings but another revenue stream as well. The number of concepts using these models grew from 15% pre-pandemic to 51% in May, according to Technomic data.
Thrillist's Ghost Kitchen model has an additional benefit in leveraging strong New York City brands like Rao's, Chinese Tuxedo, Sylvia's, Caracas Arepa Bar and Milu. To understand the impact this program could have, Thrillist reports that Rao's, established in 1896, is one of the city's most exclusive restaurants with only six booths and four tables in its dining room. Rao's has opted not to reopen its dining room yet and does not offer outdoor dining, meaning the Thrillist Ghost Kitchen offers an opportunity for many New Yorkers to have access to Rao's dishes for the first time, and also marks the first time they're able to access the restaurant through delivery. Perhaps the only challenge here is the potential for demand that outlasts the two-week residency.