Ghost kitchens gaining popularity as restaurants cope with COVID-19

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WINNIPEG —
Going out to eat in Winnipeg isn’t the same due to COVID-19, largely because of new restrictions and the threat of community transmission.

So, rather than deal with any potential transmission of the virus by customers or staff, one restaurant did away with its dining area entirely. 

“It’s just not worth any risk to put anyone at harm,” said Jessie Hodel, chef and co-owner of Roughage Eatery, a vegan restaurant in West Broadway. 

Hodel, along with her wife and co-owner Candice Tonelete, transitioned Roughage Eatery into a “ghost kitchen” model, a kitchen operating without a dining area, at the start of the pandemic. 

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The restaurant only takes online orders for pickup and drop-off, with a delivery option for customers who order by phone. 

Tonelete and Hodel are not using third-party delivery services, like SkipTheDishes or Door Dash, saying the associated charges, which can go as high as 30 per cent of an order, cuts too deeply into profits. 

“We’ve had to change all of our dining plates and our napkins and cutlery all to-go,” said Tonelete, “We’re having to change our model on everything.”

A photo of Roughage Eatery’s new ghost kitchen. (Source: CTV News/Michael D’Alimonte)

Even with the switch, the restaurant is just getting by. 

“It’s stressful to know that we don’t know what’s going to happen next to us,” said Hodel. “And if no one comes that could be the end of us in just a few weeks.”

A STRUGGLING INDUSTRY

Restaurants in Manitoba are taking a demonstrable hit as the pandemic continues. 

Restaurants and bars across Canada saw, on average, a 6.4 per cent increase in sales this past August, according to the latest available data from Statistics Canada. But, in Manitoba, the food service industry saw a 3.7 per cent decline in sales, the only decrease across provinces. 

Those numbers may not show the full picture for independently-owned restaurants, says Colin Fast, director of policy for the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce. 

“It represents the entire food and beverage sector,” said Fast, noting that large-scale chains are included in the data. “The impact on full-service restaurants and standalone restaurants is even more severe.”

COMING TOGETHER

Other restauranteurs are using a “shared” kitchen model to get by. 

Food Trip ordinarily operates as a food festival. But, with large, in-person events cancelled, Food Trip organizers decided to open a kitchen space and bring in local food vendors who would be part of the festival. 

“This is really the only source of income for them, so for them to still be able to continue their business, especially at this time, it means a lot.” said Lourdes Federis, owner of Food Trip Kitchen. 

Food Trip Kitchen has a dining area but most of their sales are for pickup or delivery, notes Federis.

“Without this, we were going to stop our operations, just like other restaurants,” said Liza Magboo, owner of Lovers in Paris, one of the food vendors operating out of the Food Trip Kitchen. “We weren’t going to have any sales for this year if we didn’t have this shared kitchen.”

For both Food Trip Kitchen and Roughage Eatery, survival is dependent on customers ordering food. 

Hodel worries what the city will look like if her own and other independent restaurants don’t make it through the pandemic. 

“There’s so much love and so much heart that goes into each meal made by local shops,” said Hodel. “It would just be really bad to lose that and just have everything come out of a box.”

“No one wants to eat from a box.” 

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