Considering the season, the thought of a ghost kitchen might conjure up images of Casper wearing a toque and witches stirring a bubbling cauldron’s contents.
But, in fact, a ghost kitchen is one of the hottest trends to hit the culinary scene since the pandemic started earlier this year. On Oct. 21, La Vida Hospitality will open Crave, a delivery-only concept.
Also known as dark kitchens and virtual kitchens, a ghost kitchen focuses on off-premise sales.
Crave’s food, for instance, is prepared in an enlarged kitchen at Fork + Flask in Rehoboth, which is also part of La Vida Hospitality. But you can’t place an order on the premises or pick one up. All ordering is online.
Why focus on delivery?
The pandemic has created an uptick in the service, but too often, third-party companies are running between restaurants to fill multiple orders. Food can arrive late and cold.
Meanwhile, full-service restaurants that offered carryout last March faced a dilemma. Menu items designed for dine-in service did not fare well as carryout. Ingredients shifted during transit, and the packaging compromised texture and flavor.
Chefs had difficulty cooking the entire menu with a limited staff, and diners’ mood swings during the pandemic made it challenging to predict which dishes would sell well on any given day.
One night, Sean Corea, executive chef at Fork + Flask in Rehoboth Beach, decided to feature pad Thai, a to-go-friendly comfort food.
“I did 170 covers by myself in the kitchen, and people really liked it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Josh Grapski, the managing partner of La Vida Hospitality, was reading about ghost kitchens.
“It’s a way to adapt to the current dining climate and think about other revenue centers,” he said. “We heard from friends that there weren’t a lot of delivery options, and people were waiting too long for their food.”
Corea also saw the advantages.
“There’s no overhead; you don’t need a storefront — it’s a new business online,” he explained.
Crave, which has an in-house delivery team, will specialize in higher-quality food with a high level of service, Grapski said. “We are a one-stop-shop.”
That’s true in more ways than one. To appeal to a variety of tastes, Crave developed three menu categories: Couch Potato, Health Nut and Traveling Foodie.
Couch Potato offerings include fried chicken, wings, burgers and loaded waffle fries. Conversely, the Heath Nut has salads, grain and veggie bowls and lettuce wraps.
The Traveling Foodie features about 10 of the greatest hits from Fork + Flask’s international nights, which were popular before the pandemic.
Crave will also have specials that reflect the season, a holiday or the chefs’ whims. (Corea collaborated with Chef Ingrid Dellatorre to create the menus.)
To start, customers can only order online, and there is no carryout. Delivery is limited to locations within a five-mile radius of the Fork + Flask kitchen.
For information, go to cravedeliverykitchen.com.