Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Orders up! “Ghost” kitchens give Toledo diners variety

In the perfect storm that was/is COVID-19, many “traditions” changed. Take dining out, for example— with dine-in restaurants closed last year, the only option for those wanting restaurant foods was carry out or delivery. But for restaurants not configured for a large take-away business, setting up for take-away dinners was not an easy pivot. In addition to not having the infrastructure or packaging, many restaurant menus don’t lend themselves to travel.

Enter the ghost. While ghost kitchens (also known as shared kitchens) have been around for several years, the pandemic has made them a solid player in the food industry– around the country and here in the Toledo area.

From commissaries to stand-alones
Established as a kitchen used for multiple brands and delivery only, ghost or shared kitchens have morphed considerably over the years. Shared kitchens have been used by individuals producing an item for sale, or by food trucks prepping for the day. The popularity of food delivery apps (UberEats, DoorDash, Grubhub, etc.) helped the growth of ghost kitchens exclusively for delivery. 

Today, restaurants create virtual brands in their kitchens for delivery only, while other businesses provide a variety of delivery-only brands. Restaurant consultancy Foodservice IP said that restaurant sales from these types of “virtual venues” were expected to increase 42 percent in 2020, and Technomic said sales would rise 25 percent a year over the next five years.

Serving specific needs
Graze! Shared Kitchen is a recent entrant in the local ghost kitchen marketplace. Managing Partner Rod Brant explains, “The Graze! brand experience gives clarity of what’s available from each brand.”

Brant’s first Graze! Shared Kitchen is located at 1734 Laskey Rd., in the former Oasis Restaurant. His newest location just opened in Perrysburg, in the Shoppes at South Boundary. Both locations offer a variety of food brands, from burgers to Italian. The brands – Big Knuckle Burgers, Mozza! Italian Takeaway, The Sandwich Factory, Oasis Eats Mediterranean and Wings Up! – were created by Brant for exclusive use in these locations. Orders placed online are available for carry out or delivery; you can also order in person for carry out.

Brant has developed a point-of-sale (POS) system geared exclusively to take out and delivery, with orders labeled and managed throughout the process. He also incorporated new packaging systems designed exclusively for his menu items.

The Toledo location has seen steady business since opening during the pandemic in 2020. He is looking for more locations and brands in the area. One brand, who had been in the Toledo area before, has spent six years looking for a new Toledo location. Brant said they’ll be joining his Graze! Shared Kitchen soon.

Bennett Enterprises has created ghost kitchens for their Ralphie’s and Frisch’s Big Boy brands and is in the final stages of opening a new concept, Ralphie’s Big Boy To Go, in Toledo at 5380 Monroe St. According to Marketing Manager Beth Hammond, “The menu will feature the most popular items from each brand. Once we’re open, we’ll continually evaluate the menu.”

In 2020, the company closed its brick-and-mortar Sylvania Ralphie’s and Secor Rd. Big Boy, and Hammond believes this new location will be “a welcome addition to the market.” Ralphie’s Big Boy To Go will open as soon as they have completed hiring staff, hopefully within the next two months.

The company currently operates two ghost kitchens in Frisch’s Big Boy locations in Bowling Green and on W. Alexis Rd., Toledo. Ralphie’s and Big Boy items can be ordered for pick up or delivery.

Ghosts at existing restaurants
In Toledo, some restaurants offer delivery (and sometimes carry-out) brands from their locations. Often, menu items are different recipes than what’s available in the restaurant. In Toledo, you can order:

“Ghost kitchens will continue to play a role for operators in generating sales with less manpower,” said Hammond. “And for guests, they will play a role in offering menu variety and ease in ordering and pick up or delivery.” 

“Sit down restaurants will never go away,” Brant said. “But people have changed, and many will continue to get meals from ghost kitchens. We expect continued growth.”

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