Ghost kitchens: the trend is finally coming to Sacramento

Executive chef and Kru partner Billy Ngo hopes Sacramento’s first ghost kitchen, The Line at Elvas Virtual Kitchens, will help his upscale Japanese restaurant rebuild delivery and do business.

Elvas’ line of virtual kitchens is virtual in name only. These are true commercial kitchens, 11 in total, each 200 square feet, in a building on Elvas Avenue near Sacramento State.

So far, the owners of Line at Elvas said they have rented three of the kitchens from Kru; Nash & Proper, which offers Nashville-inspired fried chicken from three food trucks and two outlets; and Gondo Fusion, a food truck offering Cuban-inspired dishes.

But the concept is not limited to those who are already in the restaurant industry. Ghost kitchens are also an opportunity for those to enter the business without running a full restaurant or buying a food truck.

The first three kitchens are due to open in early October and The Line’s managing director, Adam Oro, said he hopes all 11 kitchens will be rented out by the end of the year.

Ngo said the delivery and takeout business helped East Sacramento-based Kru survive the worst of the pandemic when restaurants were closed or had limited seating in 2020 and 2021.

Kru’s takeaway strategy

But Ngo said Kru had to abandon that business when the restaurant finally fully reopened in late 2021 because it was too difficult to manage the restaurant’s customers while handling delivery and takeout orders.

He said the restaurant experience would have suffered had he not given up on delivery and doing business.

“We care about the restaurant customer first,” Ngo said. “People make reservations and wait for a table. They are seated and we want to give them a quality experience.

Now Ngo hopes to be able to do both, serve restaurant customers at his location at 3135 Folsom Blvd and delivery operations in ghost kitchens.

Ngo said two chefs will be placed in the micro kitchen that will serve DoorDash, UberEats GrubHub and other food delivery services, though it’s a more limited menu.

“The ghost kitchen,” he said, “is a way to provide a fine dining experience in the restaurant while allowing customers to order delivery and takeout.”

Customers will also be able to place takeout orders on the ghost kitchen’s own app, but will need to pick up the food in person.

Beer garden next?

Eventually, Oro said the Ghost Kitchens will also contain a beer garden for students in the Sacramento State next door, allowing them to drink beer and eat food, ordered from their own app. the ghost kitchen.

Sacramento lags behind when it comes to ghost kitchens. Kitchens started to become popular in big cities before the pandemic, but flourished even more after stay-at-home orders forced people out of restaurants.

One of the leading ghost kitchen startup chains, Los Angeles-based CloudKitchens operates ghost kitchens in 17 different US cities and is led by Travis Kalanick, co-founder and former CEO of Uber.

Sacramento slow to trend

Given Sacramento’s vibrant food scene, it’s unclear why the city didn’t have a shadow kitchen complex before the pandemic, said Kamiar Nejad, one of The Line’s three investors at Elvas Virtual Kitchens.

Nejad speculates that investors didn’t think Sacramento was a big enough market.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic, which has fueled the popularity of DoorDash and other food delivery services, convinced him that the 5.9-acre site on Elvas Avenue, which once housed a grocery store blinds, would be a viable location for a ghost kitchen complex.

He and two other investors, Sutter Capital and Dan Carlton, president of Mark-Three Construction, paid $1.45 million for the land, county records show.

Nejad would not say how much it cost to renovate the building containing the kitchens.

A kitchen costs $4,000 a month

Each kitchen is rented for $4,000 per month, and restaurateurs must pay 3% of gross payees.

Cecil Rhodes II, the owner of Nash and Proper, said the ghost kitchen complex would allow him to expand his business without big expenses.

“It’s a win-win,” he said, “because I don’t have to shell out a hundred grand to renovate a whole restaurant or $150,000 for a new food truck.”

Rhodes hopes to control labor costs by having only multiple cooks in the shadow kitchen.

Ghost kitchens investor Nejad said ghost kitchens could also be a more economical opportunity for an up-and-coming chef who wants to open their own restaurant but lacks the capital to do so.

He said the resort will work with the chefs on marketing to ensure the viability of their first food business.

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Randy Diamond is a business reporter for The Sacramento Bee.

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