Ghost kitchens are taking off in New York City, and while the delivery-only restaurants aren’t inherently problematic, they can often read as harebrained, fast-money schemes backed by Big Tech, and sometimes George Lopez. “To me, it feels like quick money being made,” says Kristen Barnett, a former chief operating officer of Zuul, a ghost kitchen company that was acquired by Kitchens United, a larger ghost kitchen company, earlier this year. But what if these brands had a little more heart and maybe a colorful Gen Z aesthetic to match?
Enter Hungry House, a food delivery platform that Barnett launched out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard earlier this week. The brand bills itself as an “anti-ghost-kitchen,” and though the company is, ostensibly, another ghost kitchen, its founder uses the term to differentiate its missions from its peers in the takeout and delivery space.
“Where are the failures of the current ghost kitchen industry? How can it be better?” Barnett says. “That’s the kind of conversation I want Hungry House to create.”
For its launch, Barnett has brought on respected chefs Woldy Reyes, of the Woldy Kusina catering company and Filipino pop-up; Rawlston Williams, who runs the knockout Food Sermon food counter at the Brooklyn Navy Yard; and Martha Hoover, the James Beard-nominated chef behind Indiana-born smash burger spot Apocalypse Burger. The Goods Mart, run by Rachel Krupa, offers keto gummy bears, non-GMO popcorn, and other snacks.
Don’t expect to see these chefs in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, though. Hungry House partners with chefs and restaurateurs, who work with Barnett to adapt their dishes for takeout and delivery. Participating chefs are paid royalties for the use of their dishes and brand, but they aren’t actually present in the kitchen when their double smash burgers and chicken bowls are packaged for takeout and delivery.
“It’s really different than launching any of these concepts out into the ether on Doordash,” Barnett explains. Chefs don’t need to have a brick-and-mortar restaurant — as is the case with Woldy Kusina — to list with the platform, and the shared kitchen model means that new partners can sign-on with the company with as little as one dish. To start, most of the chefs are offering three to five.
Hungry House joins a slew of newly minted takeout and delivery businesses in New York City. National ghost kitchen chain Kitchen United is set to open in New York City later this month, according to a company representative — joining Lopez, DJ Khaled, and Guy Fieri. Earlier this year, Little Beet co-founder Franklin Becker launched his own line of ghost kitchens, serving tacos, Peking duck, and Israeli fare from Soho.
Still, Barnett is attempting to stand out with Hungry House by helping this early batch of restaurateurs reach new markets — in the case of Apocalypse Burger, which Hoover launched in Indiana during the pandemic — and customers. Reyes, of Woldy Kusina, has been operating his catering business since 2016 and popping up at restaurants roughly once a month during the pandemic. The partnership will help him serve his sought-after Filipino fare on a more consistent basis, he says.
“I built a small following during the pandemic,” Reyes says. “I get a lot of comments with people asking, ‘Where can I get your food?’ Where are you popping up next?’ Well, now you can get it every day.”
Still in its first week, Barnett says the kitchen’s smash burgers have been an early hit, and there’s already talk of opening a second location of the ghost kitchen in Manhattan early next year. For now, the Brooklyn Navy Yard outpost is open for takeout and delivery from Monday to Friday, 12 to 8 p.m. Closed on weekends.