We visited ex-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick's secret 'ghost kitchen' startup in San Francisco that was backed by $400 million from Saudi Arabia - take a look
Katie Canales/Business Insider
- Ousted Uber cofounder Travis Kalanick has opened a San Francisco location for his CloudKitchens startup, a company that rents commercial space and turns it into shared kitchens for restaurateurs, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.
- Kalanick's CloudKitchens concept is right in line with a growing trend in the food-delivery world that has restaurants and chefs turning to rentable kitchen stations in a shared space to prepare food for delivery instead of traditional brick-and-mortar locations.
- We paid the kitchen in San Francisco a visit to see what it's like. Check it out.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Ousted Uber cofounder Travis Kalanick has pivoted from the ridesharing industry to another kind of shareable market: ghost kitchens.
As part of Kalanick's acquisition of real-estate company City Storage Systems, the startup CloudKitchens - which he's been rather hush-hush about - rents commercial space that offers delivery-only restaurants and chefs a place to prepare food without having to worry about maintaining the restaurant portion of a brick-and-mortar location.
There are many names for these kitchens - commissary, virtual, dark, cloud, or ghost kitchens - but the idea is that restaurateurs can rent out space in them to prepare food that can then be delivered through platforms like DoorDash or, yes, UberEats, which was launched during Kalanick's time at the company.
Commissary kitchens are basically "WeWork for restaurant kitchens," as TechCrunch's Danny Crichton writes. These "smart kitchens," as they're called on the CloudKitchens website, can come with everything a restaurant or chef needs, like sinks, WiFi, and electricity.
They've become a hot trend in the food-delivery arena, allowing existing restaurants to be closer to a market without shelling out the cash needed for a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant. They also allow chefs to work without having to embark on the risky business of opening a new restaurant.
And the kitchens can also do marketing for these businesses, which is another perk.
Kalanick's CloudKitchens is right in line with the growing trend, so much so that Saudi Arabia's sovereign-wealth fund funneled $400 million into the startup in January in what is the first known financial backing by the country since the murder of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.
There are already CloudKitchens locations in Chicago and Los Angeles, but as reported by The Wall Street Journal's Rolfe Winkler and Rory Jones, a CloudKitchens location has been established in San Francisco's SoMa district, though when exactly is unclear. CloudKitchens did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment. The WSJ report states that the kitchen is located at 60 Morris St. Though you'll find with a quick Google search of "CloudKitchens San Francisco" that it doesn't necessarily want to be found.
Nevertheless, we paid Kalanick's San Francisco ghost kitchen a visit to see what it's like. Check it out.
CloudKitchens' San Francisco location is in the city's SoMa district, a neighborhood that has been taken over by new housing and trendy tech offices in recent years.
It's wedged within a nondescript alleyway. When we visited, an Amici's East Coast pizzeria truck was parked in front of the kitchen before driving off.
There's not much to indicate the kitchen's location except for a fairly bustling stream of delivery workers coming and going, or standing and waiting to pick up their orders.
A sign on the building says "No Parking," though there were plenty of cars parked that presumably belonged to the waiting delivery workers.
Inside was a delivery window and a row of tablets where drivers were instructed to sign in upon arrival.
The mural behind the tablets read San Francisco-centric things like "Fog City" and "Hella," a slang term that supposedly originated in the Bay Area. Through a door to the left of the tablets was a hallway where the kitchen stations likely are located.
Above the delivery window was a TV screen displaying order statuses.
The couriers listed were GrubHub, UberEats, and DoorDash, alongside orders from delivery-only restaurants like Moonbowls, The $5 Salad Company, Colombos, and Zoodle2.
You'll find the same address listed for all of those brands online: 60 Morris St.
We also saw delivery bags bearing the logo for Sweetgreen, the fast-casual salad chain, which also has a brick-and-mortar location in the city's SoMa neighborhood.
CloudKitchens isn't the only ghost-kitchen startup making waves — there's Kitchen United, backed by Google venture branch GV, and Amazon recently announced its foray into the market.
Even food-delivery platforms are getting in on the action — DoorDash recently announced the opening of its own commissary kitchen in Redwood City, about an hour south of San Francisco.
As Americans increasingly lean into take-out for their dining needs, the ghost kitchen market will likely get even hotter.
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