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Las Vegas’ ghost kitchens conceived before the COVID-19 pandemic

Updated July 22, 2020 - 3:26 pm

Las Vegas has its first ghost kitchens, and while their inception was unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic, they fit neatly with the current zeitgeist.

“Ghost kitchen” actually is a bit of a misnomer; it’s not the kitchens that are ghosts, but the restaurants they serve. As far as the customer is concerned, such restaurants exist only on the internet, where their menus are posted for delivery-only service.

Peter Klamka, CEO of Cordia Corporation, said Cordia’s Virtual Dining Brands division was planned before the pandemic and its attendant shutdowns.

“The overarching story was, prior to COVID, the shift to delivery was real,” Klamka said. “Lots of people don’t want to eat out anymore. Foot traffic was already declining.”

‘A really good concept’

Indeed, a pre-pandemic study by the National Restaurant Association reported that 52 percent of adults said takeout or delivery food was essential to their way of life; 10 years ago, only 27 percent thought so. In just two years, the study found, 80 percent of casual-dining operators said their delivery sales had increased.

“Before the coronavirus, we were already doing crazy increases in delivery,” affirmed Christine Bergman, a professor of food science and nutrition in the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality at UNLV. “I guess the apps have made it so easy. You put in your credit card, and with two or three clicks, food shows up at your door.”

And Bergman pointed out that the idea isn’t new.

“The thing I find fascinating is that this is a really good concept,” she said, “it’s just that consumers haven’t known about it. I always think about when I was a kid in school and we learned about commissary kitchens. You think about hospitals having a main kitchen and delivering individual meals to individuals in rooms. It’s just like restaurants are doing right now.”

Bergman said she also saw the concept in Cambodia about 10 years ago.

“We were sitting in what we thought was a restaurant,” she said. “There were these guys running around the back, carrying boxes. Finally I found somebody who could translate for me and found out they had no kitchen. In town, there were two or three of these really big kitchens and they delivered food directly to people in the hotels and to several what I thought were full-service restaurants, but they weren’t. The model has been around for a while. To me, the question is what’s driving it now.”

‘Clearly not done yet’

What’s driving it, Klamka said, is that push for delivery, which has only increased in recent months.

“The pandemic has accelerated the shift to delivery faster than anyone thought possible,” he said.

Cordia’s ghost kitchen concepts, which launched about three weeks ago, are Vegas.Pizza and KO Sports Bar, the latter a takeoff on all of the boxing and mixed martial arts action in the city. The former is sort of self-explanatory; the latter features selections such as the Weigh In Chicken Caesar Salad and the Yo Adrian Cheesesteak.

Klamka said plans initially were to have the kitchens in warehouse space, but they currently operate out of The Blind Pig on Dean Martin Drive, a Cordia restaurant.

“Post-COVID, there’s no need to rent any space,” he said, because the demand on The Blind Pig’s kitchen isn’t excessive. “No. 2, by the time I get to the point where I need to rent space, the price will go down dramatically.”

Klamka said after Cordia announced the new concepts, they heard from restaurants in other parts of the country interested in licensing the names. Vegas.Pizza, he said, has interest from operators in Cleveland and Los Angeles.

“I think we’ll be able to leverage that,” he said. “In today’s world, anything that contributes to the bottom line is quite helpful.”

While they’re catching on in cities including New York and Los Angeles, ghost kitchens still are a rarity in Las Vegas. They use third-party delivery services, which Bergman said could be perceived as a negative.

“The thing that confuses me are these third-party aggregators,” she said. “They’re charging up to 30 percent (to the restaurants) and they charge the customer. I don’t know how sustainable that will be.

“We’re clearly not done yet. There’s going to be a lot of changes related to this. And if we can get it to a point where the delivery fees are not so crazy expensive, it’ll be sustained and I guess the sky’s the limit. Will people even eat in restaurants anymore?”

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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