Emergence of ‘ghost kitchens’ helped some who were struggling during pandemic make ends meet
With record-high inflation on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Jersey’s small businesses have struggled. But for some, the pandemic gave rise to new possibilities.
One such thing is the so-called “ghost kitchen.” An eatery that exists solely online and delivers food to your door.
Rafaella’s is turning its ghost kitchen into a real kitchen.
“Part of it is we wanted something of our own,” says co-owner Tara Tully Vasquez.
Tara and her husband Anthony Vasquez have been renting space in someone else’s restaurant for the last couple of years. When COVID hit, they started Rafaella’s – delivery only - and built a following on Instagram.
“It gets a buzz out there to a point that like we’ve literally had customers anywhere from Staten Island just to come grab a po' boy sandwich,” says Anthony Vasquez.
Recently YouTube star MrBeast opened a brick-and-mortar version of his popular MrBeast Burger. He has used his social media fame to sell burgers mostly through delivery apps.
There are other ghost kitchens around New Jersey.
"We needed a little bit more business to attract some more people and a different customer base,” says Nick Kontolios, of Northvale Classic Diner.
The diner added a ghost kitchen during the COVID shutdowns and called it All Things Wings. The wings come from the diner – but many can’t tell. All Things Wings only exists on the internet and relies on delivery apps.
The catch is that the delivery apps hammer businesses with fees as high as 30% per order.
"Those fees man, you know, they always hit us,” says Kontolios.
But he says that it is worth it. Three years later and All Things Wings continues to grow.
As places were recovering from the pandemic, costs soared. There is still evidence of that around the state.
The Vasquez family has had an actual store now for three months. Rafaella's is all about family. It is named after their daughter.
"We have a young daughter, so it was like we have to do something. We have to make something work,” says Tara Tully Vasquez.
“Our hard work and my wife calling all the shots. I’m not gonna lie, it's like a football team,” says Anthony Vasquez.
Restaurants are also feeling the inflation – menu prices have increased 8% in the last year.