Ghost food hall concept to open in DC as restaurants struggle to survive

As restaurants take a backseat during COVID-19, Aaron Gordon is also betting big on food delivery

A ghost food hall in Washington, D.C., is bringing together local restaurants to capitalize on the takeout boom amid the coronavirus pandemic. DC restaurateur Aaron Gordon is flipping the traditional restaurant model upside down with his new concept in which a ghost kitchen meets a food vendor marketplace.

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Gordon’s ghost kitchen co-op model will differ from the typical ghost kitchen, which operates as a culinary hub for delivery only and forgoes the brick-and-mortar, dine-in space. Patrons will still be able to enjoy food and a cocktail bar in the backyard patio area covered by an awning, but the interior space will only be utilized by vendors. The majority of the business will be pickup and take-out.

“You can still get that restaurant atmosphere when you go out there, clinking glasses, laughing and having fun,” Gordon told FOX Business. “That’s why we all got into this business. It’s exciting to get that sort of thrill to be in a restaurant.”

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The ghost co-op will include a range of well-known chefs, entrepreneurial start-up concepts and global cuisines. In addition to Gordon’s own Red Velvet Cupcakes and pastry shop Bakers and Baristas, some of the headliners to be featured include celebrity chef Rock Harper, who will offer his famous fried chicken and crab cakes. A renowned pastry chef, Naomi Gallego, will also roll out a new doughnut concept, as well as a high-end Tex Mex pop-up. The founder and executive chef, Hiro Mitsui, of Ramen by Uzu, a popular DC eatery, will partner with former Sushi Nakazawa chef Ryu Hirosoko to serve Japanese bowls, dumplings, pork buns and a full-on sushi bar.

(Credit: Rey Lopez)

Harper, a DC veteran chef and winner on the TV show "Hell’s Kitchen," told FOX Business that what drew him to the ghost kitchen hall was the sense of communalism and the foundations that are needed to drive restaurants and restaurant owners forward to another shot at success. Harper will spice up his fried chicken staple with takes from around the world, including a Nashville hot chicken, a Korean style, a crispy style and more innovations to come.

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As restaurants take a backseat as a result of shutdown orders and health risk concerns, Gordon is also betting big on food delivery.

“When everything hit in March, restaurants were on the frontline of this battle,” Gordon said. “We had to sit there and take stock in what was going to happen. The collapse of restaurants will lead to the collapse of people who own those buildings.”

Upon Gordon's earning that takeout has kept his struggling neighborhood pizza restaurant afloat and even thriving, reaching 110 percent of sales compared to the same time last year, the DC food hall will be contingent on delivery, expected to make up 80 percent of sales. Gordon is going all-in on everything from the presentation of food delivery to an in-house team of delivery drivers. The homegrown fleet of drivers aims to "cut out the middle man, eradicate the 30 percent ransom prices from third- party delivery services and strengthen the collective brand," according to Gordon.

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Just as important to the delivery service is preserving the artistry of the food. Hiro Mitsui’s sushi bar is entertaining crafted bamboo boxes.

“People will continue to stay home and order delivery, so they won’t be able to see our space,” Hiro Mitsui told FOX Business. “It used to be that people would come see fancy sushi restaurants that were Instagram- and social media-worthy. My hope is that people still take pictures of our to-go containers and maintain the buzz presentation-wise.”

Every square foot of the indoors that could be used for diners will be converted into space for the kitchen, including refrigeration, dry storage and prep space for the variety of chefs and food concepts.

Instead of charging a flat rate per month, vendors will chip in for the rent and utilities based on a percentage of sales revenue. Concepts will change out once every six months in order to maintain a lively and fresh culture.

The ghost kitchen hall is set to open at the beginning of September around the same time that a potential second wave of coronavirus could hit and keep restaurants closed down.

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