Our Ghost-Kitchen Future | The New Yorker


Final fall, strolling down Mission Road, in San Francisco, I seen a brand new addition to an in any other case unremarkable parking zone on the base of Bernal Heights Hill: a big, white trailer, concerning the measurement of three parking areas, plastered with a banner that learn “meals decide up right here.” On one facet was a listing of restaurant manufacturers with names and logos that appeared algorithmically generated: WokTalk, Burger Bytes, Fork and Ladle, Umami, American Eclectic Burger, Wings & Issues. The trailer was hooked as much as a generator, which was positioned behind two moveable bathrooms; it occupied parking spots as soon as reserved for Maven, an hourly-car-rental startup, funded by Normal Motors and marketed to gig-economy employees. (G.M. shut down Maven in April.) Via a small window minimize into the facet, I might see two males shifting round what gave the impression to be a kitchen. The generator hummed; the air carried the comforting scent of fryer oil; the bathrooms had been padlocked. One of many males got here to the window and apologized: I couldn’t order meals straight, he informed me—I must order by way of the apps.

The trailer, together with a couple of others in San Francisco, is operated by Reef Know-how, a startup based mostly in Miami. In accordance with advertising and marketing supplies, Reef creates “thriving hubs for the on-demand economic system” by “reimagining the frequent parking zone.” By bringing in utilities like electrical energy, gasoline, and water, and organising “proprietary containers,” the corporate hopes to show parking tons into reconfigurable neighborhood hubs. Tons could be “formatted” to incorporate cell kitchens, beer gardens, retail pop-ups, vertical farms, auto-body retailers, medical providers, rental stations for electrical automobiles, and so forth. “Now we have these pods, which arguably should not fairly, however they’re purposeful. They will help any type of utility,” Ari Ojalvo, the C.E.O. of Reef, informed me. “If you wish to put a grocery retailer in there, put a grocery retailer in there. Laundry, put laundry.” Ojalvo compares his firm to Apple: simply because the App Retailer permits builders to create and promote iOS-based tools and providers, so Reef offers infrastructure for parking-based companies. “Apple makes use of connectivity as a platform; we use proximity as a platform. We enable third-party functions to face on this proximity platform and get nearer to customers,” he stated.

Ojalvo and considered one of his three co-founders, Umut Tekin, met as undergraduates at Northwestern College, within the late nineteen-nineties. After commencement, each labored as administration consultants: Tekin in expertise, and Ojalvo targeted on supply-chain optimization. They began their firm in 2013, in Miami, below the title ParkJockey, and initially provided an app for reserving parking areas prematurely, which launched the next 12 months in London and Chicago. The app included a back-end service for parking operators, and the corporate continued to construct out its garage-management software program. In 2018, ParkJockey raised practically a billion from SoftBank Imaginative and prescient Fund, and purchased the 2 largest parking operators in North America, Impark and Residents Parking. Within the commerce publication Parking Right this moment, writer John Van Horn speculated concerning the repercussions of ParkJockey’s ascent. “I’ve acquired a lot of calls from operators throughout the fruited plain asking about ParkJockey,” Van Horn wrote. “Who’re they? What does their software program do? Yikes, are we prey?” Shortly after the acquisitions, the corporate modified its title to Reef, to evoke a thriving ecosystem. It now manages 1.three million parking areas in forty-five hundred places—metropolis facilities and residential neighborhoods, in addition to airports, hospitals, stadiums, and lodges—in Canada and the USA. (Tekin left the corporate in 2019.)

Up to now, Reef has pitched itself as anticipating a world wherein autonomous vehicles are the norm, and fleets of self-driving ride-share automobiles make parking largely out of date. In such a world, parking tons must be repurposed. Over the previous two years, although, the corporate’s narrative has modified considerably: Reef’s executives now emphasize their work in “creating the following section of a neighborhood” by forming native logistics and mobility hubs. This 12 months, Reef launched a partnership with Bond, a logistics startup that operates “nano-warehouses”: achievement facilities, usually in vacant storefronts, that can be utilized for last-mile supply. Metropolis-dwellers could sometime decide up their Amazon packages and clamshell-carton dinners in a parking zone or empty retail area, like faculty college students dipping into the campus middle earlier than retreating again to the dorms.

For now, although, Reef is focussing on meals preparation as a check case—a proof of idea for different kinds of “functions” which may make sense in some later, future time. Meals prep is a smart first experiment for Reef’s modular strategy to repurposing parking tons: over the previous few years, supply has been on the upswing, and delivery-only kitchens—known as “ghost kitchens” or “darkish kitchens”—are having a second. Reef operates kitchens throughout eighteen cities in the USA, in seventy-odd parking tons. Within the trailer on Mission Road, meals from all six of the marketed eating places are ready on web site—the culinary equal of a multicolor retractable pen. The eating places are “inner” to Reef: designed and staffed by its staff, with menus developed by a culinary group that features former executives from Roti Trendy Mediterranean, Potbelly, and Jamba Juice. The menus lean towards consolation meals, and are slightly arbitrary. Wings & Issues affords mozzarella sticks, rooster tenders, cronuts (“dusted with cinnamon maple sugar and served with a facet of Canadian Maple dipping sauce”), Skittles, Crimson Bull, and two sorts of Greek-yogurt bowls.

At the moment, the meals provided by Reef’s inner manufacturers comes from US Meals, a meals distributor that works with schools, lodges, and hospitals, and is a wholesale provider for unbiased eating places and diners. In San Francisco, the menu gadgets are delivered to a central commissary within the Bayview space, and are available individually wrapped; exact meeting directions are supplied to line cooks. Each evening, Reef’s trailers, that are managed below a subsidiary, Vessel CA, return to the commissary, the place the gray-water tanks are drained, the potable-water tanks are refilled, and the fridges are restocked. Reef has ambitions to supply more energizing, extra subtle fare, ultimately. However, for now, clients could discover themselves paying a premium for meals just like these discovered at a fast-food restaurant, or in a grocery store freezer.

The ghost kitchen is an more and more crowded area. Along with Reef, there are Zuul and Kitchen United in the USA, Deliveroo in London and Paris, and Panda Chosen in China. CloudKitchens, the brand new enterprise run by Travis Kalanick’s Metropolis Storage Techniques, buys actual property, brings in kitchen services, and leases them to cooks and small-business house owners, most of whom wouldn’t have different brick-and-mortar areas. Ojalvo cites his personal expertise within the restaurant trade (as a companion, he labored on the growth of Sushi Samba, a Peruvian, Japanese, and Brazilian fusion-restaurant chain with places in Las Vegas and Amsterdam) to notice that opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant is high-risk and costly, whereas ghost kitchens are lower-risk, providing a extra inexpensive manner for entrepreneurs to enter the enterprise. In most cities, opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant requires a gauntlet of permits and inspections; restaurateurs ready on permits may discover themselves paying months of hire for area they aren’t but allowed to make use of. Reef’s kitchens are registered as cell meals services, which are likely to have fewer allowing necessities. Just like the trailers themselves, the enterprise particulars are configurable: Reef affords versatile staffing preparations and short-term leases.


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