Ghost kitchens make their way to Alaska

Published: Jan. 8, 2021 at 7:03 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - People in Anchorage love going out to eat. However, the pandemic has either made that impossible at worst or not quite the same experience at best. Now, one restaurateur in Anchorage is taking dine-in out of the equation.

As far as Alex Marqueda knows, he’s the owner of the only ghost kitchen in the state — Virtual Kitchen Services, that he runs out of his brick-and-mortar restaurant — Ollin Tea and Cafe.

He said they are also known as virtual kitchens and have been around for a few years in the Lower 48, but the events of the pandemic have made them much more popular.

Marqueda said virtual kitchens are basically when existing restaurant partners with another brand or franchise that doesn’t have a kitchen to sell their product. A customer can order food from one brand, but kitchens like Marqueda’s prepare it for third-party food delivery companies to deliver.

So the person never even knows that they’re buying food from Marqueda.

“That’s why it’s called a ghost. We’re kind of a ghost to the customer,” he said.

Right now, he’s partnered with four local brands: Smoothies n Greens, Boba-N-Tea, Burrito Fresh and Juan Fajitas. He said they don’t take a major cut at a 6% processing fee. These brands are available right now through apps like Door Dash and Uber Eats.

There are also bigger brands from celebrities that he’s getting into as well like Mr. Beast Burgers and Mariah’s Cookies. Marqueda said they’re working out the final agreements and these options will be available within the next two weeks.

Those, however, take a much bigger cut. Between the partnership and the delivery costs, he said he gives up about 39% of these sales.

Marqueda said that sounds bad, but it’s not because of the name on the box. He expects the increased sales from the recognition of these brands will be able to make up for the large percentage lost. Plus, all he has to do is make and sell their food and not go through the process of becoming an actual franchise or buying everything to set up another restaurant.

“That’s why McDonald’s is so successful you know? It’s the brand recognition. Us not having to pay for that? Not having to pay for the franchise fee? It’s huge,” he said.

Marqueda said restaurants can pick and choose which brands they want to sell of course. He said the best practice is to pick brands that you’re already prepared to make. For example, Ollin Tea and Cafe was already making smoothies and beverages like Smoothies n Greens sells. So it was an easy addition.

Even though some of the bigger brands take that big cut, Marqueda explained that doesn’t mean a ton of money is leaving the state because he gets to pick the ingredients. As much as he can get up here, he buys locally.

Marqueda strongly encourages other restaurants to look into creating such partnerships and starting their own ghost kitchens. Other than the extra business and recognition, he said it comes with other perks like an online ordering platform, operational system marketing, and virtual training for chefs to ensure they prepare the food as intended.

For those worried that this sounds like outsourcing or selling out, Marqueda said “not really” because it’s still his sign on the building.

“Let’s say I don’t want to do it anymore. I can just cancel my agreement and continue with my own brand,” he said.

With how the pandemic is changing things, Marqueda believes people are now “addicted to ordering online.” He thinks restaurant models like this one aren’t just here to stay but are a big part of the future of the restaurant industry.

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