It may be Halloween season, but four major food chains have decided they aren’t in the mood for ghost kitchens. Hailed as the future of food delivery, these restaurant-less kitchen facilities have risen to prominence during the pandemic-fueled shutdowns of 2020. Commercial kitchen setups designed to prioritize simplicity and speed , ghost kitchens don’t have any real storefronts and only cook food that’s available for delivery.
Now, however, the first signs of adversity are appearing in this emerging industry. Burger King, Popeyes, Jack in the Box and Del Taco have all ended their partnership with Reef Technology, one of the pioneers in the field.
Considered one of, if not the The first ghost kitchen company on the market today, Softbank-backed startup Reef Technology has achieved incredible success in a very short time. Reef operates trailers, or “ships,” that prepare food for delivery through licensing agreements with major food brands like Wendy’s and MrBeast Burger.
Partnerships with big, instantly recognizable brands like Burger King or Popeyes are an integral part of Reef Technology’s business model, so these latest developments aren’t encouraging, to say the least.
As to why these partnerships failed, Reef representatives offered no further clues. Meanwhile, a representative from Restaurant Brands International, the company that owns both Burger King and Popeyes, said Business Intern in an email: “I can confirm that the pilot project that Burger King and Popeyes were testing with Reef has been completed.”
Similarly, a rep for Jack in the Box, which also owns Del Taco, said Initiated“Our trial program with Reef has ended and we continue to evaluate the future of ghost kitchens for our business.”
These four fast food brands previously announced major plans to expand their delivery efforts through collaborations with Reef. It should also be noted that Restaurant Brands International became an investor in Kitchen United, a rival ghost kitchen company, in July.
Reef Technology’s collaboration with Wendy’s has also hit a snag in recent months. In August 2021, Wendy’s announced that it would be opening approximately 700 ghost kitchen locations in partnership with Reef. Fast forward to August 2022, and the iconic fast-food burger brand has significantly rolled back its planned ghost kitchen count; from 700 to just 100 to 150 “ships” projected by 2025. At the time, Wendy’s chief financial officer Gunther Plosch explained that US sales of Wendy’s Reef’s first kitchens had been disappointing.
The ghost kitchen startup’s problems aren’t limited to partnerships with big brands. Last month, four Reef food ships were suspended by health inspectors in Austin, Texas. Around the same time, a Reef trailer in Philadelphia was cited for using the wrong retail operating license.
At a town hall meeting last week, Reef CEO and co-founder Ari Ojalvo urged all workers to internally report any action or conduct that may violate health or licensing regulations. Whether the company can reverse these setbacks remains to be seen.
John Anderer is a writer specializing in science, health, and lifestyle topics. Learn more about John