Manitoba

No dining room, no storefront, no problem: 'Ghost kitchens' making their way to Winnipeg

Winnipeg is about to get a new kind of restaurant — but don't plan on making a visit. Instead, they might be visiting you.

Virtual kitchens operate only through 3rd-party delivery companies

Restaurateur George Kottas, seen here at his business in Scarborough, Ont., in a June 2018 photo, operates dozens of 'ghost kitchens' across the country. He plans to be operating in Winnipeg by September. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

Winnipeg is about to get a new kind of restaurant — but don't plan on making a visit. Instead, they'll be coming to you.

"Ghost kitchens," also known as "virtual kitchens," have been cropping up across the country and this fall, they'll be coming to Winnipeg.

Strolling down the street, you won't pass any storefront for these restaurants, because they don't have one.

Ghost kitchens are just that — kitchens and nothing more. They have no take-out counter and no dining area. 

The only way to get their food? Third-party delivery companies like Skip the Dishes, Uber Eats and Just Eat.

Over the last few years, the rise in these companies has created a market for the virtual kitchens.

George Kottas, CEO of the Toronto-based Dekotas Group, operates dozens of these kitchens across the country. Now, he has his sights set on Winnipeg and says he plans to be operating in the city by September. 

It's the future. Every company out there is trying to get into the online business.- Restaurateur George Kottas

"My goal is to have a store every four kilometres across the major population in Winnipeg," says Kottas.

But it's not just Winnipeg. Kottas says the four-kilometre goal is for all of North America. He already has operations in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and in four U.S. states.

The restaurants will follow regulations for each individual province or state around licensing and inspections, he said.

1 kitchen, several restaurants

As a franchise consultant and business owner, this type of food service is desirable for Kottas. All he has to do is staff a kitchen. The customer service and delivery are handled by the third-party company.

And those delivery companies exist in abundance. Kottas has partnerships with Skip the Dishes, Uber Eats, Door Dash, Foodora and Just Eat. 

Since there are no physical customers coming to the kitchen's location, Kottas has even set up multiple restaurants working out of the same space.

While one customer may select a burrito place on an app and another orders from a pizza place — advertised as different businesses — both may get their food from the same kitchen. 

That's another benefit of partnering with a company like Skip the Dishes, Kottas says — he gets insight into the market and can decide which of his concepts each kitchen should be making.

"[The companies] give me the demographics for the area — what they're looking for and the search engine results," he said.

When I go out for dinner, I'm going out because I want access to the wine list and access to the service. I don't think eating on my couch out of a take-out box even remotely resembles it.- Restaurateur Talia Syrie

"Like if in one area, people are searching for vegan or Indian food, I'll take whatever concepts I have and put them in that area."

"We've created over 30 menus — 30 different brands with different concepts and different names."

Kottas doesn't just operate kitchens using this model. He also runs virtual retail stores — many of which sell groceries.

He says it's similar to sites like Amazon, but the main difference is that you can have the goods delivered to you within the hour — just like you would with take-out food.

It's more than a fad, he believes.

"It's the future," says Kottas. "Every company out there is trying to get into the online business."

He's expecting the growth to be fast, and thinks he'll have area developers in every major city in North America by Christmas, with over 1,000 operating stores by the end of next year.

Brick-and-mortar restaurants not going anywhere

Kottas predicts that more and more restaurants will be closing their doors and opting for this model in the future.

But not everyone agrees. 

Talia Syrie, owner of the Tallest Poppy on Sherbrook Street in Winnipeg, says that a delivery-only restaurant is a completely different experience.

Talia Syrie, owner of the Tallest Poppy, says delivery-only restaurants offer a completely different experience from dining in. (CBC)

"There's a big difference between looking at art on the wall and looking at art on a computer screen," says Syrie. The walls of her restaurant itself are covered with artwork, and it even hosts an artist residency program.

Syrie says that while there is always going to be concern over competition in the business, she sees ghost kitchens as being in a different category than restaurants and she expects the dine-in experience to be around for a long time to come.

"When I go out for dinner, I'm going out because I want access to the wine list and access to the service. I don't think eating on my couch out of a take-out box even remotely resembles it."

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