‘Ghost Kitchens’ Continue to Emerge Across Iowa

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Now that they’re operating at full capacity, local restaurants are starting to make a financial comeback while still applying business models that worked during the middle of the pandemic.

Ghost restaurants are places that are strictly carryout /delivery or restaurants that dedicate a portion of their kitchen to a different menu for carryout. 

CEO of Iowa’s Restaurant Association, Jessica Dunker, said Iowa was starting to see ghost kitchens well before the pandemic. However, COVID-19 accelerated the industry’s move in that direction. 

“If ghost kitchens continue to grow at the rate that they are, research is telling us that it could be a multi-trillion dollar industry by 2030. So we’re expecting rapid expansion of the ghost kitchen concept,” Dunker said. 

Dunker said the allure of ghost restaurants for new owners is the cost since there isn’t in-house dining.

For existing businesses, it allows owners to use the same kitchen, staff, and resources to gain a second stream of revenue.  

Zombie Burger in Des Moines’ East Village did its first ghost kitchen this past winter, with a condensed menu of Japanese cuisine. 

The Executive Chef for Zombie Burger, Thomas McKern, said it helped the restaurant get as close as possible to pre-pandemic sales. 

For the spring and summer months, Zombie Burger will operate a new ghost kitchen, The Strip Club, that specializes in chicken strips. 

McKern said running ghost kitchens helps the restaurant expand and keep staff engaged. 

“It definitely gives us a chance to try new things and with this virtual concept if something doesn’t work or, you know, we’re not really happy with it. we can definitely change it and move on to something else,” McKern said. 

The Strip Club will be available on third-party apps and for carry-out at Zombie Burger starting next Wednesday. 

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