Ghost kitchens, also known as virtual kitchens, have cropped up in increasing numbers across the U.S. and U.K. in recent years, but have only recently started seeping into the Canadian market, which Kottas said is ripe for the model. They’ve been made possible by the rise of delivery apps including Uber Eats and Skip the Dishes and bolstered by the growth of consumer demand for convenience when it comes to food. “I never thought in my wildest dreams not having a store presence would work … Now I have 15 stores open,” said Kottas, who uses Uber Eats and Skip the Dishes for deliveries through his Dekotas Group company, which has burrito, bubble tea, Philly cheesesteak, poutine, pierogi, Middle Eastern and Greek concepts.
I am just about to launch in Calgary, Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa. My goal is to have a store every four kilometers across Canada. Kitchens like his allow entrepreneurs to save on the staff and real estate they would need to operate a full restaurant, while giving them a chance to experiment with new food or dining concepts that can easily be abandoned with little cost if they aren’t a success. Kottas, a longtime franchise developer, stumbled across the ghost kitchen phenomena by mistake two years ago, when he signed up his east-end Toronto breakfast joint Bite Me Grill for Uber Eats and forgot to set times for when he would accept orders. When the restaurant closed in the afternoon, it would often receive up to 40 orders that would go unfulfilled. “A light bulb went off instantly,” he said. “Within a week or so I started getting my staff to stay from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Within two or three weeks, I had staff staying until midnight and, within a month, I went 24 hours.” Then he started using the kitchen to venture beyond the breakfast fare sold at Bite Me Grill, opening individual delivery-only restaurants centred on a wide range of foods.