How a Shadow Army of Ghost Kitchens Took Over America’s Restaurants

Inside the brave new world of data-driven, search-optimized virtual restaurants that exist only on DoorDash and GrubHub

Illustration by Angie Wang for Marker

By one industry estimate, there are now about 100,000 virtual restaurants in the United States alone, with many bearing suspiciously search engine optimized names like the Omelette Farm and Pizza of New York.

Suddenly, legacy restaurants were chopping themselves up into crude, multiconcept SEO-driven commissaries through a diverse and shadowy bumper crop of new digital players.

A new digital kitchen can be opened in an urban center for $50,000, roughly 5% of the average cost of a regular restaurant.

If enough people in a certain neighborhood were searching for burritos on their apps, an outfit like Uber Eats might approach an independent restaurant in the area and pitch them on opening a virtual concept that serves burritos.

Journalist. Author of Drive-Thru Dreams. The Atlantic alum. Work in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Texas Monthly, and elsewhere.

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