Cloud kitchens take bite of local restaurant business

Restaurant food isn't always cooked in restaurants. Chicago allows pop-up restaurants in vacant stores, and now delivery-only "ghost kitchens" are popping up in warehouse and factory spaces–no diners allowed.

Delivery services like DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats make these commercial kitchens possible, Fifty/50 Restaurant Group co-owner Scott Weiner told a joint meeting of the East Village Association and Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association,

Fifty/50 runs online pizza and cakeball businesses from its restaurants, but Weiner says national chains like Applebee's and Chick-fil-A contract with commercial kitchens to fill online orders.

Cloud Kitchens, a commercial kitchen backed by former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, draws neighborhood complaints in the North Center neighborhood. Resident Jeff Jenkins told EVA members that drivers snarl traffic near Horner Park.

Weiner, whose restaurants include Roots Handmade Pizza and West Town Bakery, said well funded kitchen and delivery startups have a financial advantage over local restaurants that manage and pay their own drivers. Small restaurants depend on delivery services but do get no customer marketing data in return.

He argues that Chicago has been encouraging commercial kitchen businesses but should mark delivery kitchens and drivers for more regulation.

"There's really just no true oversight, there's no true accountability to the companies that are making all the money and taking advantage of the labor force that really is just trying to make ends meet," Weiner said. "There needs to be some neighborhood insights and discussion if these are going to open up in our backyards."

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