Twin

‘Ghost kitchens’ and ‘virtual food halls’ might be the next frontier in Twin Cities dining

Sandwiches had been on Carrie McCabe-Johnston’s mind for two years.

Ever since a family vacation to Florence, Italy, where labyrinth stone streets teem with purveyors of freshly baked bread stuffed with salami or roasted porchetta, she’d been thinking about opening a Florence-style sandwich shop back home.

The founder and chef of Bonafide Hospitality, which includes Nightingale in Minneapolis, McCabe-Johnston was searching for a place for the shop last fall, but put the idea on hold when she didn’t find the right fit.

Then came COVID-19, and as her other dining rooms and bars temporarily closed to customers, sandwiches came to mind once again. Only this time, finding a space wasn’t necessary.

McCabe-Johnston launched Lake City Sandwiches last month as an evening-only, delivery-only business operating out of Nightingale’s kitchen. “It’s our little ghost kitchen,” she said. “Complete with its own branding.”

By starting a new restaurant within a restaurant, albeit one without seats and servers, McCabe-Johnston has latched on to a rising trend of using pre-existing businesses to house new takeout ventures.

With virtual happy hours and virtual meetings now the norm, it was only a matter of time before virtual restaurants took off, too. Call them ghost kitchens, cloud kitchens or dark kitchens — basically any kitchen that’s already in motion can be leveraged to power more than one food business. Especially an underused kitchen, as the coronavirus keeps would-be customers home.

In the Twin Cities, some restaurateurs are going virtual as a way of branching into different cuisines, testing future brick-and-mortar ideas, or just keeping the lights on during a tumultuous year.

“The whole point of us doing it right now is for an additional stream of revenue,” McCabe-Johnston said. “Lake City Sandwiches is going to help what could be a tough winter for Nightingale.”

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