Austin, Texas is known for being on the cutting edge of technological trends. Combine that with a vibrant, diverse local food culture and you get a perfect testing ground for innovative restaurant concepts. The COVID-19 pandemic also set the stage for delivery services to flourish.
Restrictions placed on restaurants forced many eateries to close their doors to foot traffic. Restaurants along South Austin’s bustling strip and downtown had to pivot to a new business model as demand for online orders spiked.
While many businesses ran successful delivery operations before the pandemic, the increased demand for restaurant-quality meals plated in take-out containers overwhelmed traditional business models. Many dishes just don’t travel well. Some brick-and-mortar had a difficult time pivoting, while delivery-only concepts had a chance to flourish.
New concepts are more likely to succeed on third-party delivery apps. Established brands sell ambiance and service in addition to culinary creations. But customers don’t want to have to pay for that ambiance if they’re not dining in.
The Popularity of Ghost Kitchens
Delivery orders are still outpacing dine-in traffic, growing 300 percent faster than their traditional counterpart. But, many restaurants pay a high price for convenience. The delivery fees and processing fees outweigh the savings in traditional restaurant models.
That’s where ghost kitchens and cloud kitchens come in. By eliminating front-of-house operations, ghost kitchens can cut labor costs by about 80%. And by using sales and inventory data to optimize the menu, some concepts lower food costs by about 50%.
Whether the food comes from a traditional kitchen or a dark kitchen, the customer experience of delivery is the same. And adopting a virtual business model offers lots of opportunities to keep the restaurant lean.
Many shared kitchen spaces act as delivery-only hubs that allow restaurants to expand their range or launch a new concept without the investment of opening a location. Since customers interface with the business primarily online, restaurants can experiment with menu items and adjust ingredients without incurring the costs of reprinting physical menus or training FOH staff.
This flexibility was really attractive to businesses that were learning to navigate pandemic restrictions. Ghost kitchens rose in popularity across the country. Many large-scale ghost kitchen brands were actually developed just before 2020, which allowed them to take advantage of a time when delivery and takeout were a necessity.
Years into a global pandemic, delivery needs are steady and customers have come to rely on apps like DoorDash, GrubHub, and Uber Eats. These companies purchased a lot of their localized competition and saw exponential growth in the last couple of years. The third-party delivery app industry is worth $35 billion and is estimated to become worth $356 billion in the next decade.
The Role of Commerical Kitchens
But delivery can’t save just any brand. When celebrities and big-wig chefs can open a branch of their ghost kitchen concept in every city, what room is left for the little guy? The competition in Austin is especially heated. There are hundreds of ghost kitchen and virtual restaurant concepts on delivery apps and they can’t all possibly succeed.
That’s why many business owners are transitioning to commercial kitchens. Commercial kitchens allow smaller businesses to operate affordably by creating a shared space from which food trucks, virtual brands, meal-prep concepts, and catering outfits can operate.
Commercial kitchens help other companies by providing equipment and storage, and sometimes will assist with permits, licenses, and marketing. Staying flexible and adapting to consumer needs seems to be the expert move.
The Best Ghost Kitchens in Austin, Texas
These dark kitchens and shared kitchens in Austin are charting new paths forward:
Capital Kitchens operates two shared kitchens in Austin that primarily focus on packaged goods and beverages. It also works with bakers, food trucks, personal chefs, and caterers. They bring in experts for “learning sessions” to mentor small business owners.
Cloud Kitchens was started by Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick, and opened a location in Austin early in 2021 which operates 25 ghost kitchens. The company is considered one of the leading national dark kitchen brands.
Commercial Kitchen Factories Austin operates three commissary kitchens that offer standard amenities such as equipment and utilities, and a few extra perks. On-site offices, demo spaces, private showers, and an in-house PR specialist are some of the additional benefits of the partnership.
GhostLine Kitchens is a technology-focused operation that caters to emerging virtual concepts. They also help to bring traditional businesses such as wholesale bakeries and cottage industries into the technology age. Eight of their ghost kitchens in Austin have walk-up windows, so locals can opt for pick-up rather than delivery.
Hana Kitchens runs commercial kitchens in New York, California, and Austin. They rent kitchen space and help with recipe development, packaging, and distribution.
Just Add Chef is one of the oldest commissary kitchens in Austin. Since 2000, the company has offered storage and prep space for mobile vendors, caterers, and packaged food producers. Austin’s famous Franklin Barbecue was once a tenant.
Manon’s Shared Kitchen has 8000 feet of private and shared kitchen spaces. The family-owned prep facility/commercial kitchen leases space to food trucks and small businesses.
Prep ATX is an expansion of the Georgia-based commercial kitchen company which first launched in 2014. Their facility is one of the largest in Texas and features a dine-in area for guests to enjoy meals on-site.
Reef Kitchens is a Miami-based company that has expanded rapidly into more than 100 locations. Their economical business model sets up ghost kitchens in shipping containers and refurbished mobile trailers that can be found in parking lots across the country.
The Cook’s Nook is more than just a commercial kitchen space. It's an incubator for emerging restaurants, a consulting partner for corporations, and a community leader, working with various Central Texas government agencies to improve food policy and access. Founded by Joi Chevalier, The Cook’s Nook tells powerful stories about African-American foodways.
SmartFood Kitchen is a shared commercial kitchen in Austin that focuses on sustainable, health-conscious food producers. They’ve offered kitchen space, nutritional advice, and cooking classes for over six years.
The Green Cart Kitchen is an Austin-based brand that added a 2,000 square-foot professional commissary kitchen to their deli, pantry and catering business back in 2010.
Kitchen United Mix is a ghost kitchen hub that works with lots of national brands. They offer pickup and delivery, and customers can order from multiple concepts at the same time.
Wingman Kitchens is a shared kitchen founded by restaurant industry experts Max Kunik and Robert Strong. They thrive on helping new entrepreneurs to grow their food businesses, but their facility has the capacity to run ghost kitchens.
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