DoorDash ghost kitchen turns San Jose into testing ground
DoorDash Kitchens allows new restaurants a way to test their food in the community without opening a physical location. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    An opportunity to try new restaurant menus beyond a brick and mortar location is a hot concept in Silicon Valley.

    DoorDash plans to operate a ghost kitchen at The Plant Shopping Center off Curtner Avenue in San Jose. This pickup- and delivery-only service model lets fledgling and out-of-area restaurants test new markets while avoiding the time and expense of opening their own storefronts. Previous restaurant partners have been located in San Francisco and Southern California. DoorDash Kitchens also creates jobs for cooking staff and supervisors who oversee delivery and pickup orders.

    “Our mission is to empower local economies,” a DoorDash spokesperson told San José Spotlight. “DoorDash Kitchens… provides a cost-effective way for select restaurants to grow their business under one roof, connects consumers with enhanced selection in their area and provides additional earning opportunities for Dashers (food delivery workers).”

    DoorDash covers the infrastructure build out and permitting, and co-designs the space with each business. It collaborates with each restaurant to refine their menus to meet local food preferences and helps the merchants with marketing. To maintain quality, chefs representing each restaurant work in the ghost kitchen.

    Sammuel Washington, president of the Silicon Valley Black Chamber of Commerce, said if managed and organized well, a ghost kitchen can be a great success and launch a variety of new restaurants.

    “It’s great for diversity,” he told San José Spotlight, “as many different cultures can come together and cook a variety of dishes while working out of the same space. Another perk for a ghost kitchen is a small startup can get their business started for a minimal cost while avoiding the downside of the costly overhead it takes to run a restaurant.”

    Dennis King, executive director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Silicon Valley, said this model could help businesses hurt by the pandemic stay afloat, but he has some reservations.

    “If this is a step to help our local struggling businesses find ways to efficiently expand their services, then this is definitely worth celebrating,” King told San José Spotlight. “If this is a sidestep of restaurants so that DoorDash can continue to be a delivery service, this can be viewed as additional competition.”

    In 2021, ghost kitchen concepts opened in the South Bay. Seen as an economic boost for downtown San Jose during the pandemic, City Storage Systems, a real estate company owned by former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, created space for CloudKitchens, housing restaurants mainly focused on food for delivery and pick up. Local Kitchens opened a digital food hall north of downtown. This model promotes direct customer pickup and  relies mostly on online ordering. 

    The DoorDash Kitchens concept is a limited time pop up. Its first Bay Area location opened in Redwood City in October 2019. The second ran from July-November 2021 at Oakridge Mall in San Jose. The latter featured six restaurants, including Aria Korean Street Food, Canter’s Deli and Curry Up Now.

    Eddie Truong, cofounder of the Silicon Valley Restaurant Association, is in favor of bringing another restaurant incubator into the economy. Truong said it can be expensive to open a restaurant, and a ghost kitchen could aid minority-owned restaurants that can’t afford a brick-and-mortar business right away.

    “What DoorDash is doing is a good thing,” he told San José Spotlight. “The more options that we can introduce into the market, the better for the whole ecosystem of restaurants in general, especially if someone has an entrepreneurial idea. Then they can decide to go all in for their business.”

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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