Restaurants add ghost kitchens to boost revenue

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Daily file photo by Zack Laurence

Farmhouse Evanston started a new mac and cheese take-out restaurant out of their kitchen, known as a ghost kitchen.

Sam Heller, Assistant City Editor

When scrolling through a food delivery app like Grubhub or Seamless, Evanston residents can find restaurants without physical locations in the city, like Mac & Me and Bob’s Pizza.

These enterprises, known as ghost kitchens, have popped up across the country since the start of the pandemic. They are take-out only businesses that operate out of a restaurant’s kitchen, usually owned by the same restaurant as a way to boost their revenue stream.

Phil Cocco, general manager of Farmhouse Evanston, started Mac & Me after he noticed a lack of mac and cheese restaurants in Evanston.

Although no mac and cheese-related items can be found on Farmhouse’s real menu, the restaurant’s chefs work in the same kitchen to make meals whenever Mac & Me receives a delivery order. He said it does not cost much more to add a ghost kitchen as a second business, and it became a necessity in the pandemic.

Farmhouse used to make an average of $85,000 a week, but is now lucky if it can make over $30,000 a week. It has struggled with a lack of consumer takeout demand in Evanston, especially because the up-scale restaurant is situated in a college town.

“Our price point is too high for college kids,” Cocco said. “I get it. It’s a $15 burger and Burger King has a $3 burger.”

Mac & Me, on the other hand, offers lower prices, and Cocco said he hopes it can provide affordable meals college students will enjoy.

The biggest challenge has been marketing the ghost kitchen, Coco said. Right now, it can only be found through third-party delivery platforms, which makes it hard to attract customers.

Cocco also opened a catering business that delivers frozen or deconstructed versions of Farmhouse’s menu on Saturday. He plans to continue to create more ghost kitchens out of the restaurant and is working on adding a breakfast burrito kitchen, as well as a make-your-own salad service.

Bob’s Pizza, which is run out of Whiskey Thief Tavern, operates a bit differently than Farmhouse’s ghost kitchens — a better name would be a dual kitchen, General Manager Mark Hayashi said. Bob’s Pizza is on the Whiskey Thief’s main menu. But on Grubhub, Bob’s Pizza and Whiskey Thief are presented as two separate restaurants with different menus and logos.

Bob’s Pizza was not created by the Whiskey Thief owners, but is an already existing restaurant in Pilsen. It is known for a completely new kind of pizza, Whiskey Thief bar manager Elohim Peña said.

“It is Neapolitan pizza meets New York City pizza,” he said. “There are unique specialty pizzas as well, like the sweet lobster and corn pizza.”

Whiskey Thief’s owner is a partner in Bob’s Pizza, so when Bob’s became more popular during the pandemic, they decided to add Bob’s to Whiskey Thief’s menu in order to attract more business, Hayashi said.

Unlike Farmhouse, which used its existing kitchen, Whiskey Thief needed to add a pizza oven to their kitchen.

“We do share a lot of menu items with the other Bob’s Pizza and you can eat it at Whiskey Thief,” Hayashi said. “It is kind of like Whiskey Thief, now serving Bob’s Pizza.”

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Twitter: @samheller5

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