The new “ghost kitchen” could arrive at a parking lot near you
The trailer, which takes up about half of the 12 spaces in the small lot at 21 A St., is a âghost kitchen,â one of many in the area run by Reef Technology, a company that manages parking lots and is developed in the last mile delivery business. For the past three years, he has been trying to convince landowners that they can make more money by using the spaces for something other than parking cars.
The trailers, which she calls âvessels,â serve as a distribution center to deliver food to customers who order through apps like Uber Eats, DoorDash and Grubhub. A single trailer, like the one in South Boston, could prepare food for more than half a dozen restaurants, which license menu items to Reef, much like a franchise model. Reef takes care of the preparation and packing and generally pays a fee to lot owners to park their trailers.
Most of the brands Reef sells only exist online through ghost kitchens, such as Man vs. Fries, Sticky Wings and Rebel Wings. But place an order for a Nathan’s Famous hot dog on Uber Eats from a Boston neighborhood, and it can also come from a Reef trailer, even though the chain has five physical locations in Massachusetts.
The food comes in branded packaging without any sign of its origin.
âCustomers would have no idea where their food is coming from,â Reyes said.
Reef, backed by Japanese investment firm SoftBank, raised $ 1 billion last year to expand across the country, and it has since opened three ghosts Boston area cuisines, including that of South Boston. The other two are located side-by-side in an industrial stretch of Everett’s commercial triangle, near where a developer recently obtained key approval to build a luxury residential building.
Jonathan Medina, line cook in one of Everett’s kitchens, said most delivery drivers are used to travel in the desert district of the city to collect orders, although initially it disorienting.
“A few come here for the first time and are confused, asking, ‘Is this Nathan’s? Is that Rebel Wings? ‘ “, he said.
Medina said it takes some explanation to help people understand what’s going on.
âI usually use brands that people know and say it’s like having McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s in the same truck,â he said.
Businesses such as Miami-based Reef have become more attractive to restaurateurs since the onset of the pandemic, allowing them to reach a wider customer base without having to open new locations or hire more workers.
The big chains are also into the concept. In August, Wendy’s signed an agreement with Reef to open 700 ghost kitchens in the United States, Britain and Canada over the next five years, citing the need to expand beyond traditional restaurant formats, especially in cities. Some Boston kitchens sell food from DJ Khaled’s âAnother Wing,â a virtual brand he launched last Thursday with Reef. He will be featured in over 150 ghosts kitchens around the world, roughly half of Reef’s current kitchen footprint.
Ron Jewett, director of Reef at Everett, said business was booming, with each kitchen preparing up to 300 or 400 orders on weekend nights. He said Reef plans to add a third trailer to the site that will feature packaged goods, such as ice cream, crisps, and candy.
Although it sells food in more than a dozen restaurants in Massachusetts, Reef has only 30 employees. He plans to hire 40 more to answer the question, said Mason Harrison, a spokesperson for Reef.
Jewett expects Reef to add seven more trailers in the Boston area and also move into a two-story building near Suffolk University which would house a food, convenience and grocery delivery service.
Formerly known as ParkJockey, Reef was founded in 2013 as a parking lot operator. Through partnerships and acquisitions, it has grown into the world’s largest parking lot company in North America, with 5,000 properties under management, including about 200 in Massachusetts, according to Harrison.
The company’s ambitions went well beyond parked cars. In 2019, it changed its name to focus on converting lots into hubs for ghost kitchens and other delivery operations.
But not all bundles managed by Reef are meant to become more than a place to leave a vehicle. For example, Reef owns Republic Parking, which manages approximately 100 MBTA parking lots. A spokesperson for the T, Joe Pesaturo, said the agency did not intend to use the lots to house Reef kitchens, and under the existing contract, Reef cannot put modular structures on the MBTA property.
As Reef grows, it faces a rejection from city governments on how it should be regulated. Business Insider reported that company kitchens have been closed in at least six cities for flouting city and health codes.
Harrison said Reef is trying to work with cities to determine how their model can best fit within the existing licensing framework. Even though Reef sells food, it doesn’t technically operate like food trucks or restaurants, which are held to certain standards that don’t always apply exactly to ghost kitchens, he said.
In Boston, Reef has obtained food truck permits that allow it to prepare food for delivery only. (A spokesperson for the City of Boston confirmed that Reef had successfully passed their health inspections.)
âRegulations and compliance are an ongoing conversation in every city because we are creating something new,â Harrison said in an email.
Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said Reef’s food truck permits, which prohibit on-site sales, make the concept less threatening to nearby restaurants.
“As long as they have to play by the same rules … [rules] are enforced and controlled, I think it will be fine, âhe said. “Food trucks haven’t resulted in massive restaurant closings.”
In South Boston, Reef signed a six-month lease with local parking lot owner Stanhope Garage. Ken Aiken, director of the Stanhope family business office, said the South Boston lot’s monthly income has tripled from pre-pandemic times due to Reef’s lease, and the companies are discussing the question of whether the food operation will take over the whole lot, he mentioned.
âWe wouldn’t get that from parked cars,â Aiken said.
Meanwhile, the Everett property will soon change hands as part of a redevelopment project, so the future of Reef trailers is uncertain there. A spokesperson for the City of Everett did not respond to a request for comment on Reef’s license or rental status.
Reef’s delivery centers are not without traffic jams. Delivery drivers obstruct Spring Street in Everett on weekends, Medina said. In South Boston, Reef’s Kitchen is across the street from apartment and condominium buildings.
Yossi Sheffi, director of the Center for Transportation and Logistics at MIT, said beyond having valid permits and successful inspections, companies like Reef need to be good neighbors.
“It works until there is a trial, and then the questions are not whether they have a permit, but rather whether they are a nuisance to the neighborhood,” he said. .
Joe Rogan, vice president of sales and marketing for restaurant company Rita’s Hospitality Group in Everett, which is located down the street from Reef, said Reef operates in the “wild, wild west” of the world of food. post-pandemic restoration. Rogan has said he won’t order from a virtual trailer-based restaurant, but realizes he’s probably not Reef’s target demographic.
âMany young people who are compatible with mobile applications, see this as practical because they are delivered; they don’t have to go out, âhe said. âTechnology gets people to be in charge. “