You're not seeing things. Ghost kitchens are popping up across Edmonton

Ghost kitchens that prepare food exclusively for food delivery app orders are popping up in parking lots and storefronts across Edmonton.

Wait, what? One trailer in a downtown lot prepares food under 11 restaurant names

Staff in this trailer, in a central Edmonton parking lot, cook menu items for food-app deliveries. (Paige Parsons/CBC)

Tucked against a brick wall in a downtown parking lot, it could be mistaken for a mobile concession that sells hot dogs at baseball games.

But the white propane-powered trailer offers a rather more expansive menu.

According to a sign plastered to the side of the so-called "ghost kitchen," it offers dishes from 11 restaurants.

Ghost kitchens are commercial kitchens that exist only to fill orders from food delivery apps. The kitchens, which have sprung up in cities across Canada, have no dining spaces. Their menu offerings typically only exist on apps like Skip the Dishes and Uber Eats.

Edmonton is no exception to the trend: an Alberta Health Services spokesperson said in an email that the health authority has approved nine mobile and five permanent-structure ghost kitchens across Edmonton.

A bacon cheeseburger ordered from American Eclectic Burger through Uber Eats. (Kory Siegers/CBC)

The emergence of ghost kitchens, both on apps and their physical presence, has raised eyebrows online.

"It's not about blacklisting a certain type of business, or how they offer their product, it's just making sure we have some clarity around it and everybody knows what you get with it," Ian O'Donnell, executive director of the Downtown Business Association, said in an interview.

The trailer in the downtown parking lot is home to Rebel Wings, Wings & Things, Grady's House of Chicken, American Eclectic Burger, Burger Bytes, Lightning Burger, Red Corn Taqueria, Fork and Ladle, Happy Khao Thai, Three Pagodas Bistro, and Breakfast All Day Every Day.

This ghost kitchen trailer in downtown Edmonton offers food under the names of 11 restaurants. (Paige Parsons/CBC)

CBC was able to confirm all of the restaurants are listed as active on local meal delivery apps, and correspond to an address that matches the parking lot location. However, Grady's House of Chicken was marked "momentarily unavailable" on Uber Eats.

The 11 menus for the trailers' restaurants have some overlap.

Lightning Burger on Skip the Dishes, and American Eclectic Burger on Uber Eats and DoorDash offer identical menus and come from the same trailer, though the price for the Date Night deal on Uber Eats is $3 cheaper, not including fees and delivery charges.

The menus are the same on three apps, but the price and restaurant names vary. (William Wang/CBC)

O'Donnell took to Twitter last month, posting a picture of the trailer, querying what people thought of the emergence of ghost kitchens.

In an interview, he said he's hoping for clarity from authorities, not only about zoning and licensing, but also about the suitability of placement near or on the city's high streets, such as Jasper Avenue, Whyte Avenue and 124th Street.

"In my opinion, storefronts on main streets are there to generate traffic of a pedestrian nature, and to complement neighbouring businesses. Ghost kitchens do neither," he said.

On Whyte, a storefront has been taken over by a ghost kitchen literally called Ghost Kitchens. A sign advertises "Dine in — Take out — Delivery," and opening hours until 3 a.m.

A ghost kitchen in a Whyte Avenue storefront directs delivery drivers picking up online food orders to the door in the alley. (John Shypitka/CBC)

None of the 14 ghost kitchens that AHS is aware of have been found to have violated any public health rules, according to the emailed statement from the health authority.

Harry Luke, senior planner with the City of Edmonton's development services, said late last month that the city recently became aware of two ghost kitchens trailers through social media.

"We will be visiting those two sites, and we will try to determine, when we're on site, what exactly the activity is that's carrying on inside these trailers," Luke said.

Luke said it's possible the sites could be classified as restaurants if they have any on-site seating, specialty food services or if takeout is available. He said it's possible they could even be zoned light industrial if they are doing only food preparation and distribution.

"It all comes down to just having the opportunity to visit these sites and determine what kinds of rules and regulations we will apply to these businesses," he said.

A worker inside the trailer when a CBC reporter knocked on the door referred comment to his manager, who in turn forwarded the request to parent company, Miami-based Reef Technologies.

In response to an interview request, a company spokesperson offered to send a statement but didn't, and then didn't respond to a follow-up request by email.

American Eclectic Burger, Burger Bytes, and Lightning Burger are all prepared in the same trailer. (Kory Siegers/CBC)


Paige Parsons reports on justice issues, courts and crime, with a special focus on public safety. Send Paige a story tip at paige.parsons@cbc.ca.