In a San Francisco parking lot, an unmarked trailer powered by a generator churns out meals for six different “restaurants,” including WokTalk, Burger Bytes, Fork and Ladle, Umami, American Eclectic Burger, and Wings & Things. The restaurants are run by Reef Technology, and its trailer’s parking space is only one of 1.3 million parking spaces that Reef manages in 4,500 locations throughout the United States and Canada. At least 70 of those parking spaces are occupied by Reef’s delivery-only kitchens or “ghost kitchens” that prepare food for customers who order online only.
Run by a culinary team that includes former executives from Potbelly and Jamba Juice, Reef’s virtual restaurants are part of a growing trend. Other ghost kitchen companies include Zuul, Kitchen United, Deliveroo, Panda Selected, and CloudKitchens, which is run by Uber founder Travis Kalanick. CloudKitchens leases kitchen space and delivery-only service to chefs and small-business owners who couldn’t otherwise afford the expense of opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Uber Eats, working with both Reef and CloudKitchens, now delivers meals from 7,000 different virtual restaurants. According to journalist Matt Newburg, an 11,000 square foot CloudKitchens commissary in Los Angeles houses 27 kitchens that prepare meals for 115 delivery-only restaurants. Even the national chain Ruby Tuesday, announced it is leasing kitchen space to third-party restaurant brands to prepare delivery-only meals. .
Both the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and the Bartenders Union Local 165 have filed a lawsuit against hospitality companies MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment. The lawsuit alleges that several restaurants, including The Signature at MGM Grand, Sadelle’s Cafe at the Bellagio, and Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar at Harrah’s Las Vegas, did not provide adequate rules and procedures to address the spread of COVID-19. “This lawsuit … is the just the beginning of the culinary union’s legal efforts to make sure workers are fully protected,” said Geoconda Argüello-Kline, the Culinary Union’s secretary-treasurer. Multiple workers have come forward with statements regarding the incident. “I did everything to follow social distancing,” said Jonathon Munoz, food server at Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar. “We follow the strict protocol for three months. And now I come to work with a company that breaks protocol within a week…I feel the company doesn’t care about my wife or my kids.” At The Signature at MGM Grand, bellman Sixto Zermeno says he tested positive for COVID-19 on June 11 and attempted to “warn the Signature and its parent company MGM Resorts, but was not contacted for two days, even as co-workers with whom he had worked, including one who later tested positive for COVID-10, continued to work.”
States including Washington, Florida, California and Texas are rolling back their restaurant reopening dates as the United States sees a second surge in coronavirus cases. According to Johns Hopkins data, the country’s seven day average of coronavirus cases increased by 42% the last week of June. That’s roughly 38,200 cases within the week. As the numbers were released showing a sharp spike in cases, Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee postponed the planned reopening of the state’s restaurants and bars on Saturday. California Gov. Gavin Newsom followed suit and ordered the state to close its bars last Sunday. As case numbers climb up in states throughout the nation, more and more states have rolled back reopening restaurants for inside dining, limited them once again to takeout, delivery, and in some cases limited outdoor dining. The sudden backpedaling has made it even harder for restaurants that ordered food and rehired workers in preparation for reopening on the weekend. .
As people cook at home more instead of eating in restaurants, Airbnb has launched a series of Online Experiences featuring chefs such as David Chang, Edward Lee, Claudette Zepeda, and Rōze Traore. The virtual cooking classes take place throughout the summer, and each class costs $75–100. Proceeds from most of the classes support chef Edward Lee’s LEE Initiative Restaurant Reboot Relief Program. Proceeds from the class taught by chef Rōze Traore, who is a two-time open heart surgery survivor, will help fund Harboring Hearts, a nonprofit that provides emergency financial support and food delivery to heart surgery patients and their caregivers. The chefs will host all four cooking classes on Zoom with a cap of 10 participants, and participants will be able to interact with the chefs while receiving feedback via Zoom. More Online Cooking Experiences classes are planned, including chefs Roberto Ruiz, Jun Lee, Nicola Dinato, Soo Ahn, Paolo Gramaglia, Cristina Bowman and more.