TikTok star Larray stirs up new mac and cheese ghost kitchen in Houston

Sandler, E. (2021, August 18). Tiktok Star Larray stirs up new Mac and cheese ghost kitchen in Houston. CultureMap Houston. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from https://houston.culturemap.com/news/restaurants-bars/08-18-21-larray-tiktok-youtube-star-mac-and-cheese-ghost-kitchen/.

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Add social media starts to the list of celebrities getting into the ghost kitchen business. Larray, a musician and content creator with almost 40 millions followers across TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram, has launched a virtual restaurant devoted to mac and cheese.

Available now via third-party delivery apps, Larray’s Loaded Mac puts a creative spin on the familiar comfort food. The seven-item menu starts with the four-cheese blend Classique; other options include LBT (bacon, cherry tomatoes, arugula, and two kinds of Cheddar) and the Feelin’ Risky (pulled pork, crispy onions, Fritos, barbecue sauce, Cheddar). Prices range from $11-16. 

“Some of my fondest memories from growing up are making mac and cheese in the kitchen with my grandmother,” Larray said in a statement. “Her original recipe was always a family favorite and gave me the inspiration to create Larray’s Loaded Mac. I am so excited to share our favorite dish with fans and fellow mac and cheese lovers.”

Larray partnered with Virtual Dining Concepts to translate those family recipes and to launch the project in cities across the country. In addition to Houston, Larray’s Loaded Mac is available in Austin and Dallas, as well as Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, and more. Expect the company to add other content creators as partners in the future. 

“We are focused on working with digital-first talent by helping them create an ownable virtual dining brand,” said Robbie Earl, VDC co-founder. “By tapping into the creator economy, we’re not only playing a part in growing the influencers’ personal brands but also further helping the restaurant industry leverage the digitally native community. Having Larray join the virtual food space provides him with another way to engage his fans, this time with food deliveries in 30 minutes or less, and have them be a part of something that means so much to him.” 

Houston is no stranger to celebrity-backed ghost kitchens. Chef David Chang’s Fuku arrived here in April, and actor George Lopez brought his tacos in June. 

TikTok star Larray stirs up new mac and cheese ghost kitchen in Austin

Sandler, E. (2021, August 18). Tiktok Star Larray stirs up new Mac and cheese ghost kitchen in Austin. CultureMap Austin. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from https://austin.culturemap.com/news/restaurants-bars/08-18-21-larray-tiktok-youtube-star-mac-and-cheese-ghost-kitchen-aus/.

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Add social media starts to the list of celebrities getting into the ghost kitchen business. Larray, a musician and content creator with almost 40 millions followers across TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram, has launched a virtual restaurant devoted to mac and cheese.

Available now via third-party delivery apps in major Texas markets, including Austin, Larray’s Loaded Mac puts a creative spin on the familiar comfort food. The seven-item menu starts with the four-cheese blend Classique; other options include LBT (bacon, cherry tomatoes, arugula, and two kinds of cheddar) and the Feelin’ Risky (pulled pork, crispy onions, Fritos, barbecue sauce, cheddar). Prices range from $11-16. 

“Some of my fondest memories from growing up are making mac and cheese in the kitchen with my grandmother,” Larray said in a statement. “Her original recipe was always a family favorite and gave me the inspiration to create Larray’s Loaded Mac. I am so excited to share our favorite dish with fans and fellow mac and cheese lovers.”

Larray partnered with Virtual Dining Concepts to translate those family recipes and to launch the project in cities across the country. In addition to Austin, Larray’s Loaded Mac is available in Houston and Dallas, as well as Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, and more. Expect the company to add other content creators as partners in the future. 

“We are focused on working with digital-first talent by helping them create an ownable virtual dining brand,” says Robbie Earl, VDC co-founder. “By tapping into the creator economy, we’re not only playing a part in growing the influencers’ personal brands but also further helping the restaurant industry leverage the digitally native community. Having Larray join the virtual food space provides him with another way to engage his fans, this time with food deliveries in 30 minutes or less, and have them be a part of something that means so much to him.” 

Restaurateurs embrace ghost kitchens in a spooky COVID world

Turner/Contributor, A., Lee, A., Putnam, J., Spruill, R., Olson/Staff, J., & Davis, G. (2021, September 27). Restaurateurs embrace ghost kitchens in a spooky covid world. GREENVILLE JOURNAL. Retrieved October 6, 2021, from https://greenvillejournal.com/eat-drink/restaurateurs-embrace-ghost-kitchens-in-a-spooky-covid-world/.

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How many restaurant concepts can operate in the same kitchen at the same time? Until more recently, the answer would likely have been rhetorical. But it’s 2021, and the obvious isn’t exactly so obvious anymore.

Now, thanks to the thriving ghost kitchen trend, there can be a half-dozen or more concepts with their own names and identities operating from the same kitchen. And Greenville has dozens of them. In fact, you may have ordered from one without realizing your food was being prepared under a different name in one of your favorite local restaurant’s kitchens.

ghost kitchen, or “virtual brand offering,” is a professional food prep and cooking facility (restaurant kitchen) designed for delivery-only meals, mostly via third-party services like DoorDash or UberEats. Some ghost kitchens allow takeout or drive-throughs. But, they don’t include a storefront or indoor seating for customers.

They range from unique concepts developed locally by an owner or chef, such as at Saskatoon Lodge, which operates five take-out only concepts from its main kitchen, to major national brands, such as MrBeast Burger, which has multiple locations in the Upstate and 900 throughout the country.

So why are restaurants moving this direction? It’s simple — they need to make money.

Ghost Kitchens pros & cons


  • Test out new menu items without impacting original brand
  • Turn off online ordering if demand is greater than supply
  • Fewer staff needed
  • Little waste if using same ingredients for brick-and-mortar restaurant and virtual brand
  • National virtual brands provide marketing and support
  • Easily target and gather customer demographics from specific geographic locations
  • Can operate when host restaurant is open or closed


  • Third party delivery is expensive and sometimes unreliable
  • Food via delivery isn’t always delivered at the correct temperature
  • Inconsistent hours disenfranchise customers
  • No staff interaction with customers
  • Removing hospitality aspect can impact staff workplace satisfaction
  • Creating own online platform is challenging
  • Extra storage is needed
  • Relying on unreliable supply chain for even more ingredients

More facts

  • Number of virtual restaurants in the U.S.: estimated 100,000
  • Virtual restaurants are predicted to be a $1 trillion  industry in the next 10 years, according to Euromonitor
  • Nearly 60 percent of adults consider purchasing takeout or delivery food is essential to their lifestyle
  • The existing ghost kitchen boom was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mission Grill Ghost Kitchen

Pandemic Pivot

Sasakatoon owner Edmund Woo says, pre-COVID, he had three thriving revenue centers with the restaurant, paleo meal prep service that had been operating for 10 years, and major events for hundreds of people.

“Fast forward, and bam! The pandemic hit,” he says. “All of a sudden, we don’t have a brick-and-mortar and events … so we made that foray into the ghost kitchen space.”

The first virtual brand Woo launched in summer 2020 was Wow Bao, an established concept by independent restaurant icon Richard Melman out of Chicago under Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. Woo felt confident being aligned with an established brand with the marketing behind it would be the fastest route to success in uncharted territory. After it was indeed successful, Woo launched four of his own original concepts — Lodge Birds, Heavenly Cheese Melts, Lodge Dogs, and Farmstead Greens — based on gaps he saw in the market.

Adam Hayes, executive vice president of Larkin’s Restaurants, made a similar decision about how to best use the kitchen and staff at the Haywood Mall Grill Marks location once restaurants reopened in 2020. To bring in as much revenue as possible with as little change to the Grill Marks operations, he chose to go the route of MrBeast Burger, a smash burger concept his 10-year-old son had become obsessed with via the YouTube channel of MrBeast, Jimmy Donaldson. Both operate at the same time with similar ingredients, and if the restaurant itself gets too busy, they turn off the online MrBeast ordering. Grill Marks is still the priority, Hayes says.

I would say that we definitely learned that we can’t operate two different concepts in the same kitchen.
-Chris Coleman, founder, Scratch House Chicken

Original Offerings

While bringing in one or several national brands makes sense for some operators — like the former Foundations Grill 311 restaurant in the Landmark Building at 301 N. Main St. that is now mission central for at least six ghost concepts — for others, creating their own has benefits.

Executive chef Chris Coleman, a five-year euphoria Greenville veteran, opened up his new Charlotte, North Carolina restaurant The Goodyear House in February 2020. When the shutdowns hit only a few weeks later, he and his partners developed an original fried chicken ghost concept called Scratch House Chicken that became an instant hit.

They pushed pause on it soon after the main restaurant reopened, but one sandwich recently named the second-best fried chicken sandwich in Charlotte remains on The Goodyear House menu. As Coleman and his team looked to open their next restaurant in Rock Hill, they were able to apply what they learned from operating the fast casual chicken concept to successfully launch Old Town Kitchen & Cocktails in August.

“I would say that we definitely learned that we can’t operate two different concepts in the same kitchen,” Coleman says. “We did build a brand that we could possibly open in a food stall or hall should the opportunity present itself.”


Smart Strategy

Vincent Caradonna, owner of Le Petit Croissant in downtown Greenville, has been operating his own ghost kitchen concepts for eight years, starting first with a luxury chocolate delivery service in New York City, and now with four virtual concepts in addition to the regular bakery shop offerings.

“I can create our own competition,” he says. “It’s a way to try different things to see what works. Every time we want to try a product, we’ll operate out of a ghost kitchen.”

Dan Pope of Mission Grill in Anderson began exploring ghost kitchen operations in 2018 while planning to launch new brick and mortar locations around the Upstate. He says it helped them build business in targeted areas and see where their customers were.

For his purposes, the ghost concepts are not the ultimate goal, but rather a means to an end because of the impact they can have on overall hospitality.

“Inherently, they’re digital. It takes a lot of the service out of food service,” Pope says.

With countrywide staffing issues, he’s committed to staff retention, and in his experience, if the service element is removed, he’d also lose the really good, talented staff.

“It’s not a rewarding career, anymore,” he says. “It takes the joy out of making someone else’s day. It’s a little bit of a double-edged sword. You broaden your reach and don’t have to add staff, but the staff that does like the service, you’re going to lose them to someone who does double-down on the service aspect.”

Once a ghost concept is launched, he incentivizes staff with the promise of taking it to a brick and mortar as soon as possible.

“If you want a staff that truly cares about what they’re doing and the success of their business, the worst thing you can do is put them in a job where they’re hidden behind a screen and don’t know who they’re interacting with,” Pope says. “I’d rather not operate a restaurant if I can’t give good service rather than further divide the fairly limited talent pool.”

Greenville Ghost Kitchens

Here are the Ghost Kitchens Greenville, South Carolina has to offer:

Host: Grill Marks Haywood Mall and Sonny’s Grill

  • MrBeast Burger

Host: Sonny’s Grill

  • Burger Mansion
  • Ranch Burger Co

Host: Landmark Building

  • Outlaw Burger
  • CraveBurger Concept by NextBite
  • Super Smash Burgers
  • Lucky’s Breakfast Diner
  • Cupid’s Wings

Host: Saskatoon

  • Lodge Birds
  • Heavenly Cheese Melts
  • Wow Bao
  • Lodge Dogs
  • Farmstead Greens

Le Petit Croissant – edible fruit arrangements, luxury chocolates, CBD chocolates, donuts

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers & Brews

  • Chicken Sammy’s
  • Fresh Set
  • The Wing Dept.


  • The Burger Den
  • The Meltdown

Other Ghost Kitchens in Greenville, South Carolina

  • FireBurger
  • Stackhouse Double Stacked Burgers – Fatz Cafe
  • Nascar Refuel
  • Tender Shack from Bloomin’ Brands
  • Conviction Chicken TGI Fridays
  • Wing Squad
  • Wing & Tender Factory (Sticky Fingers)
  • Bad Mama’s Chicken (Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar)
  • Hootie’s Burger Bar (Hooter’s)
  • It’s Just Wings by Brinker International (Chili’s on Haywood)

Are virtual restaurant brands the new frontier for franchising?

Doyle, T. (2021, August 26). What’s it like working in a ghost kitchen? we couldn’t get close enough to ask. . Eater. Retrieved October 5, 2021, from https://www.eater.com/22632677/ghost-kitchens-restaurant-industry-food-delivery-takeout.

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The shift to off-premises has fueled rapid growth of virtual restaurant brands under a growing number of models. The attraction of offering menus for delivery only is clear: There’s a low cost of entry. A slew of turnkey brands are available and come with technology and marketing assets. There’s no need for costly real estate, and many are designed to help restaurant operators get more volume out of existing kitchens.

Some see such delivery-only operations as a new frontier for franchising — even though some virtual restaurant specialists do not present their brands as franchise offerings at all.

Attorneys warn that the world of virtual restaurant brand partnerships is still new and evolving. There are similarities between operating another company’s virtual brand and a traditional franchise, but the two can be very different and there are legal considerations that operators — whether as potential franchisor or franchisee — should keep in mind.

The landscape of virtual brands is “dynamic, extremely competitive and new,” and it’s not going away, said attorney Riley Lagesen, chair of the National Restaurant Industry Practice Group for law firm Davis Wright Tremaine. Fundamentally the question is, “Can all the parties in the chain make money with these models and, if they can, is it sustainable?”

Here is some advice for navigating this evolving landscape from attorneys and those working in the virtual restaurant space.

Is it a franchise?
The first step in looking at taking on a virtual brand is whether it is, in fact, a franchise.

Two of the largest virtual brand operators, Virtual Dining Concepts (MrBeast Burger, Tyga Bites and Wing Squad) and Nextbite (George Lopez Tacos, HotBox by Wiz Khalifa), offer multiple turnkey brands, but they do not see themselves as franchisors.

Nextbite calls the restaurant operators it works with “fulfillment partners,” for example, and Virtual Dining Concepts describes it as a “license to become a market partner for a specific territory.”

“There are legal requirements for franchising and the production of franchise documents that have to be filed, and signing-on fees. We do none of that,” said Robert Earl, Virtual Dining Concepts founder.

Nextbite offers George Lopez Tacos as a turnkey virtual brand, but it’s not a franchise. Restaurants are considered “fulfillment partners.”

Under the Virtual Dining Concepts model, for example, restaurant operators take on the turnkey brands that work best for their kitchen setup, including some launched with celebrities offering immediate brand awareness.

Operators pay 35–40% of sales to Virtual Dining Concepts, which handles everything from marketing to third-party delivery relations. From the remaining 60% of sales, the restaurant operators are estimated to have roughly 30% in food and packaging costs, leaving them with about 30% profit.

Unlike traditional franchising, the beauty of this model is the flexibility, including the ease of starting it up — and stopping if the brand does not work for the operator.

“We give you a market license that has no obligation on your side,” said Earl. “You can stop at any time.”

Other virtual restaurant brand providers, however, are offering a very specific franchise model.

The Local Culinary (El Taco Loco, The Chef Burger, The Green Kitchen), based in Miami, is a virtual brand franchisor, filing disclosure documents and following many of the same procedures — just without the obligations tied to opening a brick-and-mortar location.

“Today, we are the first — and still I think the only — virtual restaurants using FDDs,” said Alp Franko, founder of The Local Culinary, which offers a portfolio of about 50 in-house restaurant brands.

The Local Culinary’s franchisees pay an entry fee, then royalties and a marketing fee that amounts to 7% of sales. Most franchisees take on 10–15 brands, Franko said.

A franchise agreement offers the operator territory exclusivity. The Local Culinary offers training and support, like a traditional franchisor would.

“Yes, it’s a very regulated model. Yes, it’s very different, but I believe in it,” said Franko.

A rose by any other name
In addition to the platforms offering plug-and-play brands, many restaurant chains are also opening up their virtual menus to franchising.

Attorney Lagesen of Davis Wright Tremaine said he advises restaurant clients who are looking to expand virtual brands to approach it as if they are a franchisor if they want to avoid legal consequences.

Even though some operators might not call it franchising, it could be seen as a franchise relationship if it meets a certain definition under state or federal laws. For example, if a company is offering rights to a trademark, compensation for use of that trademark and marketing support or control over the operation, that could be considered franchising, he said.

“It doesn’t matter what you call it. If it meets the elements, it’s a franchise by law,” he said. And that could mean the franchisor has obligations to follow certain rules and procedures, like filing disclosure documents, although there are exemptions that could also apply.

“Arguably a lot of these don’t fit the definition of a franchise,” said Lagesen. “One can take a look at their own business model and develop it in such a way that you’re not going to trigger meeting the definition of a franchise.”

Attorney Andrew Sherman, who specializes in franchising for the law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP, predicted that disputes about the franchising/not-franchising of virtual brands are inevitable in this new world.

To preempt such disputes, he also advises franchisors to follow the rules and procedures of franchising when building virtual brand partnerships — though such agreements should include elements specific to delivery-only operations.

“FDDs are designed to create an informed franchisee decision,” he said. “If you have people committing time and mortgaging their homes, I would argue you must file an FDD, no matter what you call them. And you need a separate ghost kitchen FDD. The terms might be very different.”

Growing the franchise family
Across the traditional franchising world, the growth of virtual brands is already having an impact.

Restaurant chains that franchise say they have started to think differently about their own agreements with new and existing brick-and-mortar franchisees who are increasingly interested in dipping their toes into virtual brand operation to boost their revenue.

Dickey’s Barbecue Pit is one of a growing number of franchisors that built its own virtual brands as an add-on option for its family of franchisees. Dickey’s has launched the delivery-only concepts Wing Boss and Big Deal Burger, for example, and soon will debut the new Trailer Bird, a hot chicken-and-tots concept.

Franchisor Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants Inc. is preparing to open its growing portfolio of virtual brands to franchising, either as delivery-only or brick-and-mortar outlets.

The virtual brands have been so well received, Dickey’s is planning to open brick-and-mortar locations of those brands as well. And soon all of the brands will be opened to outside franchisees, either as virtual or brick-and-mortar outlets, said CEO Laura Rea Dickey.

For those who want to franchise the virtual brands, the company is planning to develop a separate FDD. Agreements for the virtual brand franchises will have shorter lease terms but protective territories will be the same, she said.

The sign-on fee will be the same as for brick-and-mortar franchising, along with royalty fees of 5%. But virtual franchisees will pay a marketing fee of 2%, rather than the 4% for brick-and-mortar operators, in part because franchisees could have third-party delivery costs — though Dickey’s offers the option of in-house delivery and guests can order direct from the Wing Boss or Big Deal Burgers apps, she said.

What’s It Like Working in a Ghost Kitchen? We Couldn’t Get Close Enough to Ask.

Doyle, T. (2021, August 26). What’s it like working in a ghost kitchen? we couldn’t get close enough to ask. . Eater. Retrieved October 5, 2021, from https://www.eater.com/22632677/ghost-kitchens-restaurant-industry-food-delivery-takeout.

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Ordering takeout or delivery is a lot like watching Netflix. You can do both things on your phone, the options are seemingly endless, and nothing looks particularly good. You scroll and scroll and scroll until you can’t scroll anymore, and begrudgingly decide on some gauzy teen drama, or defer to whatever generically named chicken wing joint paid for the best placement in the app. You hit play or pay or both, and several hours later you mope off to bed a little annoyed (with yourself, with contemporary life) and a little dyspeptic.

With growing frequency, the food you order from a delivery app is being prepared in a ghost kitchen — or cloud kitchen, or commissary kitchen, or whatever you want to call it — by cooks working for a restaurant that doesn’t really exist, at least not in the traditional sense. There is no storefront, no dining room, and no front-of-house staff. In some cases, the kitchen functions as a hub for a handful of other so-called virtual restaurants; in others, the food from the virtual restaurant is prepared inside the kitchen of an established brick-and-mortar but with a separate name and menu. Either way, your burger or tacos or pizza could be cooked anywhere by anyone — which is what makes the ghost kitchen concept so lucrative and appealing to owners and investors.

These kinds of digital-only restaurants existed before the pandemic broke out, but they experienced exponential growth as people across the country were confined to their homes for more than a year, unable to safely eat inside a restaurant dining room filled with strangers. Some of them are run by independent operators looking for a cheap and easy way to try something new (and for extra revenue to keep the lights on as the industry continues to struggle); many more are run by a number of large companies making big bets on delivery being the future of the restaurant industry.

Take the Local Culinary for example, a ghost kitchen company that operates more than 40 virtual restaurant brands with generic names like Chef Burger or Pizza Mania. The Local Culinary launches digital-only restaurants — many of which serve burgers, chicken, pizza, or tacos — and franchises them out to operators with physical kitchen space. Its founder, Alp Franko, says he doesn’t have enough revenue data to predict too far into the future, but some research he’s seen suggests the market might “double or triple” in the coming years, while other reports predict that ghost kitchens could transform into a $1 trillion industry over the next decade.

As cities and states begin to reopen and restaurants begin to offer on-site dining again, Franko’s biggest fear is that diners will stop relying on takeout and delivery. But for now, and with the realities of the delta variant settling in, he says business is booming, and that the Local Culinary’s revenues are increasing in the double digits. In Franko’s ideal world, franchisees of the Local Culinary’s brands will sign up to offer as many of its virtual restaurants as their kitchens can handle. Some will operate out of kitchen spaces rented from dedicated ghost kitchen brands like CloudKitchens, enter into franchise agreements with companies like Reef, and others will operate out of existing restaurants — indies and chains alike — looking for extra revenue.

“We have plenty of those franchisees, and the reason is because they already pay the rent, they already have a kitchen, they already have all of the prep ability and equipment,” says Franko. “So for them to do a burger from Chef Burger, or any other menu item, it’s the same.”

Another major player in the virtual dining industry is Planet Hollywood founder and CEO Robert Earl, whose Virtual Dining Concepts has launched a handful of celebrity-branded digital-only restaurants in the past year. Like Franko, Earl — who says his budding virtual restaurant empire helped sustain his hospitality business during the pandemic — is looking to capitalize on some perceived spare capacity (space, time, equipment, labor) in restaurant kitchens.

None of Virtual Dining Concepts’s celebrity brands (not even Pauly D’s Italian Subs) have exploded more than MrBeast Burger, an online-only fast-food restaurant founded in conjunction with a wildly popular YouTuber named MrBeast. The digital burger joint launched with more than 300 virtual restaurants in more than 35 states last December. Now, there are nearly 1,000, and Earl says that number is set to double. About 20 percent of MrBeast Burgers operate out of brick-and-mortar chains owned by Earl Industries, like Buca di Beppo, while others set up shop in the kitchens of other chains or independent restaurants. On its website, Virtual Dining Concepts claims that restaurants that set up ghost kitchens to operate one or more of its brands can expect to see a 30 percent increase in profits.

Virtual Dining Concepts isn’t Earl’s only venture with ghost kitchens. Having previously collaborated on a fast-casual chicken sandwich restaurant called Chicken Guy, the mogul and loved/loathed chef Guy Fieri recently teamed up to launch Flavortown Kitchen. Like some outposts of MrBeast Burger and Earl’s other virtual restaurants, Flavortown Kitchen operates out of a number of chains he already owns, including Bertucci’s, a wood-fired pizza chain that originated in Boston in the early 1980s and is best known for its halfway decent pizza and warm dinner rolls. Now it doubles as a mass producer of Fieri’s “donkey sauce.”

At the end of the day, the goal of these virtual restaurants (for the franchisor and the franchisee) is no different than any other business: to maximize profits and minimize overhead. Why operate one restaurant in your kitchen when you can operate four or five or 12? The space is there and the equipment is there, after all. But then again, there’s also the cooks who suddenly have to memorize and execute all those extra menus. Does their pay increase? Will ghost kitchens add more staff to accommodate the increased volume? In conversations with C-suite and management types for this reporting, these questions went unanswered and danced around, but more than one source said issues of pay are determined by individual ghost kitchen operators. For his part, Franko was shockingly honest when pressed about labor in ghost kitchens.

“I want the franchisee making money,” he says. “So how to make money is to optimize the cost, and to optimize the revenue. So if the franchisee needs a new chef or a new line cook, or if they need to buy new equipment or more tools for prep, then for sure, they should invest to grow their revenue. But usually, my approach and the company’s approach is to optimize the current needs and the current team. We are not here to invest in more space or in bigger teams.”

Earl told Eater he initially tried to launch a cloud kitchen business to operate his virtual restaurants, but he found that “the economic model didn’t work.” Operating out of already existing kitchens with already existing labor forces was much less complicated — and much cheaper.

“When one had to have a separate labor force, the economics just didn’t add up,” says Earl. “If you look at the separate cost of labor, it kills the formula. So my thinking moved very quickly over to the realization that most restaurants in the world have spare capacity, meaning that the culinary side has capability of producing more food than that which is needed for the customers on the other side of the wall.”

Eater reached out to a number of Boston-area Bertucci’s directly in an attempt to speak with some of the cooks who are tasked with executing Fieri’s food on top of the restaurant’s principal menu. One kitchen manager said his staff was too busy to pull anyone off the line; several others declined outright; and one referred Eater to a vice president with the company. When asked if they could make kitchen workers available for comment, the vice president deflected, and instead said they could offer “something much bigger.” Several follow-up emails have gone unanswered.

Labor in ghost kitchens, like the concept itself, is often opaque. There are certainly instances when a brick-and-mortar opts into a ghost kitchen model, increases revenues, and is then better able to retain existing kitchen staff, or hire additional kitchen staff, but there are also instances when the opposite is true. Ghost kitchens put another barrier — a smartphone screen, in this case — between diners and the people making their food, hiding from view a workforce that was already next to invisible before anyone knew what a ghost kitchen was, one that has historically endured exploitation in the form of low wages, long hours, and various forms of abuse. And that’s only been exacerbated during the pandemic, especially for food service workers of color: According to a study from the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Hispanic and Latinx food preparation and service workers in Massachusetts died of COVID-19 at a rate eight times higher than white workers between March and July 2020. Add to that the well-documented exploitation of the countless delivery drivers who work for the delivery apps — in California, apps such as Uber and DoorDash poured nearly $200 million into a ballot measure in last year’s election to deny drivers access to employment protections — who deliver all the food cooked in the ghost kitchens, or the fact that there are robotics companies that are out here trying to straight up replace workers in ghost kitchens entirely, and it’s clear that labor issues aren’t exactly top of mind in the booming industry.

Not all ghost kitchen businesses are inherently exploitative or obsessed with profit over labor — indeed, some may even be responsible for saving independent restaurants that might have otherwise gone out of business during the leaner moments of the pandemic without the extra revenue. Take Stillwater in downtown Boston, for example. During a typical dinner service, chef and owner Sarah Wade and her kitchen staff can be found whipping up plates of Ritz fried chicken or crispy Faroe Island salmon skin for the groups of hungry diners that have swarmed back to the restaurant since Massachusetts lifted its restrictions on indoor dining in May. But the Stillwater menu is no longer the lone focus in the restaurant’s kitchen — Wade and crew are also busy preparing orders for the Mac Bar, a mac and cheese-focused takeout and delivery restaurant she launched in November 2020 as a way to make ends meet.

“It’s a concept I’ve been rolling around in my head for a while,” says Wade. “And this was an opportunity to trial it and see if it worked, if we got a good bite on it, and if maybe someday I wanted to do it as a brick-and-mortar. So there were a lot of reasons why I started it. But mainly, of course, it was to make money and pay rent and staff during COVID.”

Still, Wade says she’s barely breaking even, and that she’s getting killed by the fees third-party delivery apps are able to charge. Massachusetts’s temporary cap on the fees expired in May, and city and state legislators haven’t moved to extend it. (San Francisco implemented a permanent cap in June, but the apps have already developed tactics to skirt the new regulations. Despite charging high fees that often hurt restaurants, none of the major players in the third-party delivery wars are profitable.) Wade needs to operate the Mac Bar for the additional revenue, and she needs to be on the delivery apps to market, sell, and deliver the Mac Bar product, but the delivery apps are digging deep into her cut. It’s a vicious cycle.

“It’s brutal,” says Wade. “Are you kidding me? After executing it and putting it in expensive to-go containers — because customers are very picky about their to-go containers — there’s not much left. But the way I see it is, the staff is still working, and we’re still putting a couple pennies into our pockets. And it’s all still moving along.”

She says she’s considering exclusive deals with some of the apps to get better placement and treatment. But the big players like Franko’s the Local Culinary and Earl’s Virtual Dining Concepts already do that, and have a lot more money, so it’s easy to see that those who benefit most from virtual restaurants — if they are indeed the future of the industry — are those who not only have the funds for their businesses to survive crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, but who can also afford to exploit opportunities that the crises present.

Does Robert Earl really need to partner with Guy Fieri? Does Guy Fieri really need to make an extra million or two? The answer in both cases is “probably not!” But the market is obviously there, so why not strike while the grill that is cooking 45 different things for 11 different restaurants is hot? Ghost kitchens may or may not be the future of the restaurant industry, but they’re definitely the present. And as the pandemic continues to surge, making diners more wary of eating indoors, they’re probably not going away anytime soon.

‘Cake Boss’ Buddy Valastro Gets in on the Ghost Kitchen Game With Cake Slices for Delivery Only

Stapleton, S. (2021, September 28). ‘Cake Boss’ Buddy Valastro gets in on the ghost kitchen game with cake slices for delivery only. Eater Vegas. Retrieved October 1, 2021, from https://vegas.eater.com/2021/9/28/22698461/cake-boss-buddy-valastro-ghost-kitchen-cake-slices-delivery-only.

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Buddy V's Cake Slice

Cake Boss Buddy Valastro goes virtual with a new partnership with Robert Earl’s Virtual Dining Concepts. Now diners can order Valastro’s over-the-top cakes delivered right to their doorstep. The chef behind Buddy V’s Ristorante and Carlo’s Bake Shop at the Palazzo and PizzaCake at Harrah’s Las Vegas now has Buddy V’s Cake Slice, serving his most popular cake flavors for the new delivery-only brand. To start, Buddy V’s Cake Slice will feature confetti, vanilla rainbow, fudge, red velvet, and black and white fudge with more flavors to come.

Valastro packages the slices individually at Carlo’s Bake Shop after they are quickly frozen to maintain freshness. The cake slices are distributed to restaurants across the country and made available for online orders through the website, third-party delivery carriers, and his app available for download from the Apple Store or Google Play. Slices are delivered for $8.95 each from Buca di Beppo locations on East Flamingo Road and West Lake Mead Boulevard.

Virtual Dining Concepts and Earl already have ghost kitchens with Guy Fieri and his Flavortown Chickenrapper Tyga and his chicken bites, deejay Pauly D and his Pauly D’s Italian Subs, and singer Mariah Carey and her cookies, among others.

6 things to know in Houston food right now: Openings, big moves, and a Cake Boss ghost kitchen

Sandler, E. (2021, September 28). 6 things to know in Houston Food Right Now: Openings, Big Moves, and a cake boss ghost kitchen. CultureMap Houston. Retrieved October 3, 2021, from https://houston.culturemap.com/news/restaurants-bars/09-28-21-food-news-roundup-buddy-valastro-ghost-kitchen-dog-haus-energy-corridor-kps-kitchen-new-location/.

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Add Buddy Valastro to the list of celebrities getting into the ghost kitchen business. The Cake Boss star has partnered with Virtual Dining Concepts to launch Buddy V’s Cake Slice. Available for delivery bia its website or third party apps, Buddy V’s serves five different flavors: Confetti, Vanilla Rainbow, Fudge, Red Velvet, and Black and White Fudge — all of which are made at Valastro’s Carlo’s Bakery in New Jersey and shipped across the country for distribution. In Houston’s the slices cost $8.95 each plus taxes and delivery fees. 

'Cake Boss' Star Buddy Valastro Launches New Virtual Brand

@justPEREZplay. (2021, September 28). ‘cake boss’ star buddy Valastro launches New Virtual Cake Brand: Kiss 95-7. ‘Cake Boss’ Star Buddy Valastro Launches New Virtual Cake Brand. Retrieved October 3, 2021, from https://kiss957.iheart.com/featured/perez/content/2021-09-28-cake-boss-star-buddy-valastro-launches-new-virtual-cake-brand/

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‘Cake Boss’ star Buddy Valastro is known for his tasty treats at Carlo’s Bakery. But now, he’s switching things up and is the latest celebrity to launch a new virtual brand in a “ghost kitchen”.

Introducing, ‘Buddy V’s Cake Slice’. This new business venture features 5 cake flavors to choose from, including Confetti, Vanilla Rainbow, Fudge, Red Velvet and Black & White Fudge.

After doing some digging, I learned that Bertucci’s across the U.S. are hosting his business. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to walk up and pick up at a location though.

Customers interested in supporting the brand would be able to purchase cake slices for delivery only through a third party delivery app.

Learn more and find a location near you at buddyvscakeslice.com

Buddy Valastro Joins List of Celebrities Launching Virtual Brands for Digital Ordering

PYMNTS.com. (2021, September 28). Celebrities Launching Virtual Brands. PYMNTS.com. Retrieved October 3, 2021, from https://www.pymnts.com/restaurant-innovation/2021/buddy-valastro-joins-list-of-celebrities-launching-virtual-brands/.

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Buddy Valastro, a celebrity baker made famous by the series “Cake Boss,” among other reality shows, announced Tuesday (Sept. 28) that he is launching a virtual bakery brand, Buddy V’s Cake Slice, through ghost kitchen solution Virtual Dining Concepts (VDC).

“It’s cake Hoboken-style, Baby!!” Valastro said in a statement.

Through the concept, the cakes are baked at the Valastro family’s bakery, then frozen and shipped out to the kitchens running the virtual brand. Consumers can order these cakes through the brand’s Olo-powered website and app or through third-party delivery services.

VDC specializes in celebrity collaborations. Its list of partners features a handful of major names including Mariah Carey, Mario Lopez and Steve Harvey.

“I am a huge fan of Buddy’s and we have been talking for some time about working on projects together,” Robert Earl, founder of Virtual Dining Concepts, said in a statement. “Buddy V’s Cake Slice works on so many levels — everybody has their favorite cake flavor and with this brand, you can enjoy your own slice delivered right to you, wherever you are.”

Many celebrities and influencers have been using the virtual brand model to capitalize on their loyal followings with these low-effort, low-capex locations. In an interview with Karen Webster, Olo Founder and CEO Noah Glass recalled the instant success of MrBeast Burger, another VDC virtual brand created in partnership with YouTube celebrity MrBeast.

See also: Celebrity Ghost Kitchens Acclimate Consumers To The Delivery-Only Model

Olo CEO On The Path To IPO And Building A Restaurant Network

“MrBeast Burger was this phenomenon,” Glass said. “It was through our partnership with Robert Earl and his restaurant portfolio. He said, ‘I’m doing this thing, virtual additional concepts. There’s a celebrity angle to it. I know you’ve never heard of him, but I’ll tell you, Mr. Beast is a big deal, 80 million followers, and we’re going to launch Mr. Beast burger on top of your platform, and we’re going to do it across 200 of our kitchens.’”

This rapid proliferation of virtual brands has only been possible because of the dramatic growth in online delivery ordering since the start of the pandemic. PYMNTS’ study The Bring-It-To-Me Economy, created in collaboration with Carat from Fiserv, find that 58% of U.S. consumers are ordering food online more than they were before the pandemic, with 48% ordering from restaurants’ websites and having the food delivered to their homes more often and 46% ordering more from third-party aggregators.

Fast-Growing Barstool On Pace To Crack $200 Million In Revenue

McCarthy, M. (2021, September 22). Fast-growing barstool on pace to crack $200 million in revenue. Front Office Sports. Retrieved October 4, 2021, from https://frontofficesports.com/barstool-sports-erika-nardini-growth/.

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Barstool Sports CEO Erika Nardini predicts the company will grow to over $200 million in revenue by early 2022 — up from $150 million last year. 

As Barstool expands into virtual dining, frozen pizza, and sports media rights, the brand is evolving from brazen disruptor to ubiquitous player that’s now “everywhere” in the sports ecosphere.

That will be the digital media brand’s message Wednesday during its upfront presentation to ad agencies. 

Barstool’s revenue grew 57% to $150 million in 2020. If the company surpasses $200 million by the end of 2021, that would represent a roughly 33% increase. 

It would be double the $100 million in revenue it generated back in January, 2020, when Penn National acquired a 36% stake in Barstool for $163 million in cash and stock.

The deal valued Barstool at $450 million.

The rowdy upstart has feuded with the biggest names in sports, from the NFL to ESPN. It also boasts 135 million followers on social media, and its sports and pop culture content generates 1.6 billion monthly video views. 

Also notable is the fact that more than half of Barstool’s audience is under 30 years old; a third are female. It boasts the No. 1 sports podcast in America with the humorous “Pardon My Take.”

As Barstool transforms into an entertainment/lifestyle brand, it is forging partnerships with Fortune 500 giants like Walmart that might have looked down their noses at its sometimes notorious past.

“I really believe Barstool is everywhere. There isn’t a category that we haven’t disrupted,” Nardini said. “Whether it’s finance, sports, lifestyle, entertainment, military, parenting. We’ve really disrupted so many great categories. We create content that is funnier, smarter, sharper, shorter, more dynamic than most anybody else out there. That’s the reason our brand and our company are growing so quickly. That’s the reason we perform so well for our advertising partners.”

Entering Wednesday’s upfront, Nardini believes Barstool has a strong story to sell: 

Barstool Bites: Jumping on the “ghost kitchen” trend, Barstool will launch its own “virtual dining experience” in October.  The company will team with hundreds of restaurants to offer a “Barstool Bites” menu, including  chicken wings, sandwiches, chips and “game buckets,” deliverable to your home.

With Barstool Bites, the company hopes to do for “couch food” what it did for vodkas with its Pink Whitney brand. Barstool wants to “bring its content, our products and our brands to our fans — no matter where they are,” she said.

One Bite: Founder Dave Portnoy’s new frozen pizza line will hit 3,600 Walmart stores at the end of September. The global frozen pizza market reached $14.5 billion in sales, according to IMARC Group, and is predicted to grow at a rate of 6.8% between 2021 and 2026.

Barstool Arizona Bowl: On Dec. 31, the company will not only title sponsor the Arizona Bowl but stream it across its platforms. Look for Portnoy and Dan “Big Cat” Katz to serve as analysts while Barstool brings in a play-by-play announcer to steer the game telecast from Tucson.

Barstool’s selection sparked a backlash from the Pima County Board of Supervisors. which voted 4-1 to withdraw nearly $40,000 in funding from the bowl due to Portnoy’s history of “inflammatory statements and tweets.”

Barstool was recently named a bidder to stream a package of midweek MLB games. It seems to only be a matter of time before a league sells rights to Barstool. The Arizona Bowl approached Barstool, Nardini said, not the other way around.

“Sports and teams are really looking for a couple things. They’re looking for viewers and young fans — and we have both of those.”

New talent: Over the last year, big names such as Deion Sanders and David Oritz signed with Barstool. At the upfront, Barstool will tout new hires such as TikTok stars Alex Bennett and her mother Kim as well as sports betting personalities “Megan Makin’ Money” and “Kelly in Vegas.”

Sports Books: Barstool’s online sports book is now live in nine states (New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona, and Colorado). 

Branded Bars: Barstool is planning to open its first stand-alone, branded sports bars in Chicago and Philadelphia this year.

Super Bowl: Despite its feud with the NFL, Barstool’s planning a party and other live events in Los Angeles before Super Bowl LVI.

The controversial brand has come a long way. Nearly four years ago ESPN cancelled “Barstool Van Talk” after one episode due to Portnoy’s offensive comments about ESPN talents. The feud between Portnoy and the NFL came to a head with “El Presidente ” physically ejected from Super Bowl LIII in 2019.

Barstool recently launched an exclusive channel on the SLING TV streaming service. But Nardini doesn’t seem them doing another cable TV show: “You’ll see us do streaming. You’ll see us doing our own broadcasting.”

The media industry is still recovering from billions lost during the sports shutdown. Barstool’s ability to reach young consumers is opening doors previously closed along Madison Avenue. 

Since 2016, the number of Barstool advertisers has grown from fewer than 10 to over 300. They include Chevrolet, Pepsi and Verizon.

“The world is opening up for us,” said Nardini.“We’ve gotten to a big enough scale where someone like Walmart says, ‘Hey, we want to sell more pizza. We want 22-year olds to come into Walmart.’ So what’s the best brand to work with if you want a 22-year old to come into Walmart? I think that’s us.”

‘Ghost kitchens’ feed into post-Covid eatertainment trend

Palmeri, C. (2021, September 22). ‘ghost kitchens’ feed into post-Covid eatertainment trend. BusinessLIVE. Retrieved October 4, 2021, from https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/companies/2021-09-22-ghost-kitchens-feed-into-post-covid-eatertainment-trend/.

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The decline in restaurants is being matched by the rise of delivery food

Dave Portnoy, founder of the pop culture site Barstool Sports, has a talent for shape shifting.

In the last year alone, the 44-year-old internet celebrity has alternated between conservative hero, meme-stock evangelist and small business saviour, all while maintaining his day job as a podcast host and hard-to-please reviewer of pizza places. “This is like a faucet of grease,” he memorably described one slice.

Now, add aspiring food mogul to the list. After announcing a new frozen pizza line with Walmart earlier this month, the self-described Stool Presidente is also jumping in on the virtual “ghost kitchen” trend, assembling an army of independent restaurants to deliver peak bro food to his legions of fans. To do so he is partnering with eatertainment pioneer and Planet Hollywood founder Robert Earl to launch a virtual restaurant concept built around the Barstool brand.

Barstool Bites, which will debut in October, plans to offer sandwiches, super spicy chicken wings, dips and buckets of flavoured popcorn to the same hard-core sports buffs who gobble up Barstool’s always irreverent, sometimes sophomoric commentary. There’s more in store, including physical restaurants and Barstool food trucks, which are promoting the brand.

“We’re going to experiment with giving our fans the ability to order the types of food we eat when we’re sitting on our couch watching footballs on Saturdays and Sundays,” said Erika Nardini, Barstool’s CEO.

The New York-based media company, which Portnoy founded in 2003, has expanded from blogging to videos and podcasts that have won it 135-million social media followers. Last year he sold 36% of the company to casino operator Penn National Gaming for $163m. Barstool has since launched an online betting business and an electrolyte-spiked drink designed to address hangovers — all of which can be promoted by the company’s online hosts on programmes such as Pardon My Take and Spittin Chiclets.

“They do like 80 shows a week,” Earl said of his new partner. “All these podcasters are having dishes named after them and they’re all going to be constantly talking about them.”

Barstool Bites will follow the ghost kitchen playbook, shunning expensive physical locations for what may ultimately be hundreds of local restaurants that prepare Barstool’s food, then deliver it via third-party apps like DoorDash and GrubHub. The virtual dining brand is the latest entry into an already crowded field that has everyone from restaurant chains like Applebee’s, Chuck E Cheese, and Nathan’s to former Uber Technologies CEO Travis Kalanick chasing the delivery-only business.

Though digital eateries have been around for several years, the concept took off during the pandemic, when many restaurants had to stop serving indoors and left kitchen space idle for other uses. An opening rose for entrepreneurs to launch restaurant concepts almost overnight, without the investment in real estate, kitchen gear, staff and other expenses that can easily run up to $375,000 for each physical location. Instead, they could spin up a new digital storefront built around a narrow food offering and a search engine-optimised brand name.

In the 12 months to June, delivery-only restaurant orders in the US jumped 66%, while on-premises dining fell 39%, according to market researcher NPD Group. Uber’s delivery revenue more than doubled from 2020 to $1.96bn in the second quarter. That business, much of which is food, was bolstered by the acquisition of Postmates.

Sterling Douglass, CEO of restaurant technology supplier Chowly, estimates that there are nearly 100,000 virtual restaurants already in the US. Euromonitor International figures sales from ghost kitchens could reach $1-trillion globally by 2030.

Going all-in on the trend is Earl, a 70-year-old UK native who got his start promoting dinner shows in London with sword fights and six-course meals consumed with a dagger. He ran the Hard Rock Cafes in the 1980s, before founding Planet Hollywood the following decade, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Demi Moore as early spokespeople. The chain expanded too rapidly though, and declared bankruptcy twice.

He still owns restaurants, such as the Buca di Bepo brand, but he has recently recast himself as a ghost kitchen mogul. Earl said he began to think seriously about the delivery business early into the pandemic after seeing sales decline in his traditional restaurants, many of which are based in malls where foot-traffic plummeted.

Earl’s year-old, Orlando, Florida-based company, Virtual Dining Concepts, channels his eatertainment roots, with kitchen concepts often built around celebrities who can generate free publicity or have a vibrant social media following. He has launched brands with singer Mariah Carey (Mariah’s Cookies), Saved by the Bell star Mario Lopez (Mario’s Tortas Lopez), and Jersey Shore character Pauly DelVecchio Jr. (Pauly D’s Italian Subs). The deals are a 50/50 partnership with the celebrities he works with, under which they share the profits.

MrBeast Ecosystem

Earl’s breakout hit is MrBeast Burger, a concept launched in December with YouTube personality Jimmy Donaldson, who is famous for stunts like giving away 40 cars to his 40 millionth subscriber. Earl said the pair have sold one million of the $7.50 burgers so far. The brand now has almost 1,000 kitchens from Bangor, Maine, to Honolulu, preparing its food, with another 1,000 to come. “Which I think makes it by far the fastest-growing restaurant chain in the world,” Earl said.

Also benefiting from the trend are some of the restaurants hit hardest by the pandemic. Marylisa Carrier and her husband, Robert, were just weeks away from shuttering their Sparks, Nevada, burger joint in 2020 when they got a call from a salesperson pitching Earl’s Virtual Dining. The Carriers were told they could generate $200 a day in revenue from MrBeast. Instead, receipts have been triple that. The Carrier’s restaurant, Sizl Burger, retains about 67% of the average $25 order. It has allowed the couple to keep their business open and even consider expanding. “It’s been a huge, huge thing for us,” Marylisa Carrier said.

There are risks that come with the surge in virtual dining, however. One is trying to control quality when the food is prepared by hundreds of independent operators scattered all over the country. It’s also unclear whether the restaurants will lose interest in virtual brands when the pandemic subsides and their kitchens become busy with in-person diners.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen when the guests show up again,” said Greg Golkin, an investor in restaurant businesses through his Kitchen Fund in New York. “A lot of these orders are coming out of the back of an Irish pub.”

Already Barstool employees have gone online to rate their boss’s frozen pizza. No surprise though, they’re not very critical. Portnoy gave himself a 10 out of 10.

Guy Fieri opens Flavortown Kitchen delivery-only restaurants across US

Leggate, J. (2021, February 12). Guy Fieri opens flavortown kitchen delivery-only restaurants across US. Fox News. Retrieved September 14, 2021, from https://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/guy-fieri-opens-flavortown-kitchen-delivery-only-restaurants-across-us.

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The ‘ghost kitchen’ restaurants have opened in 23 states and Washington DC

Anyone who has watched Guy Fieri and wondered where, exactly, Flavortown is located may soon discover one in their own backyard.

The chef and Food Network personality recently opened a new delivery-only restaurant chain, Guy Fieri’s Flavortown Kitchen, with locations in 23 states and Washington D.C.

The eateries offer the kind of big-taste foods that Fieri is known for, with items like burgers, wings and jalapeno poppers on the menu. Dishes include Fieri-favorite ingredients like “super melty cheese,” “Donkey sauce” and “Chicken Guy” seasoning. Anyone who has watched Guy Fieri and wondered where, exactly, Flavortown is located may soon discover one in their own backyard. (Reuters)


The chain is a partnership between Fieri and Robert Earl, the Planet Hollywood founder who has previously worked with Fieri on their Chicken Guy chain, Eater reported.

Flavortown is operating out of other restaurants’ “ghost kitchens,” according to the report.

So-called ghost kitchens have been opening in restaurants across the country amid the coronavirus pandemic as dining rooms have been closed or faced greatly reduced capacity, while meal-delivery services have seen large increases in use.

Many of the Flavortown Kitchen locations share addresses with chains like Brio Italian Grille and Buca di Beppo, which are owned by Earl’s company, Earl Enterprise. Some of the addresses are also being used by other delivery-only eateries like MrBeast Burger, a ghost kitchen restaurant recently launched by the YouTuber who goes by the same name.

While diners won’t be able to visit Flavortown Kitchen, it is available from delivery services operated by DoorDash, Uber Eats and Grubhub in areas where the ghost kitchens have opened.