(NBC News) Do you know where your last delivery meal was cooked? These days it can be increasingly hard to tell.
The pandemic has many restaurants going all-in on take-out and has spurred the growth of “ghost kitchens,” delivery-only or virtual brands that sometimes operate out of another brand’s location.
Applebee’s recently launched Cosmic Wings, a delivery-only brand that Uber Eats will deliver from 1,300 Applebee’s kitchens.
Chili’s and Chuck E. Cheese have their own wing brands as well.
The “ghost brands” are easy to launch and market online, but there has been some backlash from customers who thought they were ordering from a new local business.
“The workaround right now, to understand whether or not you’re ordering from a virtual concept is to just look at the address,” notes restaurant tech expert Kristen Hawley.
Most brands are transparent about any connection to existing restaurants, and some are independent businesses that are simply operating out of other kitchens.
Junzi, which serves up Chinese home cooking, is one of nine small ghost kitchens in the recently-launched virtual food hall Zuul Kitchens in New York City.
“It’s efficient takeout, it’s dining room-less takeout,” says Junzi’s Chef Lucas Sin.
Zuul is part of the rise in culinary incubators across the country.
Kitchen United, another culinary incubator, has ghost kitchens in Pasadena, California, Chicago, Austin and Scottsdale, Arizona.
“Because we’re pickup and delivery only locations, we were obviously able to stay open in spite of all the restaurant closures,” says Kitchen Unlimited CEO Jim Collins.
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