It seems a day doesn’t go by nowadays without a new ghost kitchen concept popping up.
While all that growth can be exciting, the ghost kitchen land grab has its downsides, at least according to Kristen Barnett. The former COO of ghost kitchen startup Zuul told me today in a video call that the industry’s rapid expansion has often meant low-quality food, a lack of transparency, and, well, just way too many chicken wing restaurants.
To counter this, Barnett has launched a new company called Hungry House, which she describes as an ‘anti-ghost kitchen ghost kitchen.’
What does that mean?
“We are actively being intentional about some of the more negative sides of the ghost kitchen industry that the public has come to know,” said Barnett. “Hungry House really was created as a reaction to that, seeing a way to flip those maybe less than ideal characteristics of the industry on its head and say ‘No, what happens if we infuse transparency, we tell customers it’s Hungry House making the food, we have a physical storefront that people can actually order at and see the kitchen and see the team?'”
To do all that, Barnett’s plan is to be transparent about where the food is made and who is making it and to have tight control over the quality. That means growth will be purposeful in the beginning as the company builds its business one kitchen – and chef – at a time.
“I wanted to create Hungry House as the partner of choice for what I believe to be the next generation of culinary leaders who have different career paths than in the past.” According to Barnett, that next-generation leader might be a food truck operator or someone who has proven themselves a culinary innovator on social media but may not want to run a full restaurant.
One such creator is Woldy Reyes.
“Woldy is this incredible Filipino chef who has really well attended pop ups throughout Brooklyn,” said Barnett. “He’s known for his signature menu items, yet he’s been running a catering business, not necessarily operating restaurants, and he’s been able to do all of that. So it made a lot of sense for him as someone who has really well developed recipes, but didn’t necessarily know exactly what it would take to run a restaurant and figuring all of that out wasn’t necessarily in his career plan.”
Barnett’s approach to creating high-touch kitchens and working closely with emerging voices with strong culinary visions is a marked contrast to the high-profile celebrity virtual restaurant concepts being spun out these days.
“These celebrities are definitely capitalizing on great content,” said Barnett. “But is it necessarily going to be executed in a way that creates true long term value in a food brand? I don’t think so. I don’t think many of these are going to be around.”
Barnett’s plan is slowly expand Hungry House over the next year into Manhattan and see where it goes from there. She said the company would be raising a seed round to grow the team, build out their tech stack and expand into new cities.
At the top of her list? LA, New York and Miami.
“With those cities locked down, really anything as possible when it comes to using our model to launch high quality brands that come from either chefs, celebrities, CPG brands,” said Barnett. “That’s the type of world I want to create – where there is true innovation, there are new things being launched, and new stories being told.”
You can watch my full interview with Barnett below: