A group of investors is proposing to convert 1719 Wisconsin Ave. into a “ghost kitchen”. GM linked to an article on this proposal last week, but one aspect of the plan that that article did not delve into is the impact of delivery drivers.
A “ghost kitchen” is a restaurant that produces food for for one or more virtual restaurants that exist in name only. The idea is that hungry eaters look for, say, pizza restaurants in Uber Eats, or whatever, and up pops Pauli’s Neopolitan Pizza. From within the app it appears to be a completely real restaurant, but it doesn’t actually have a bricks and mortar location you could go and eat pizza at. It’s just a kitchen that will fulfill your order and send it to you. And along with your order they may be fulfilling order’s for “Saigon Sam’s” or “Joe’s Burgers” and none of those will be real either. In some cases the restaurants do have other, real bricks and mortar locations, but deliver from this virtual location instead.
Here is how the group behind the Georgetown ghost kitchen describe their business plan:
The Project will consist primarily of converting the inside of the Building for use as a commissary kitchen, which is intended to provide an opportunity for emerging small and local restaurant businesses. The proposed commissary kitchen will provide food preparation and cooking facilities, and related support, to license to entrepreneurs and chefs. These chefs/restaurateurs will be provided a platform for their businesses to prepare meals without the large expense and risk of opening a traditional standalone restaurant. Most of the licensees are expected to be small and local businesses who do not traditionally have access to capital. These licensees will operate their business from the facility and will sell meals directly to customers. Customers will order their food predominantly via online food ordering platforms for delivery by a third party or for direct customer pick-up. Customers also will be able to order and pick-up food at the Building via the front lobby.
The proposal originally called for no interior space where customers could come and actually eat the food. After Georgetown Main Streets suggested they offer such a space, it was added to the proposal. However, it’s clear that the vast majority of the planned sales will come via apps like Uber Eats or Postmates, etc.
And, in GM’s opinion, what that means in practice is that this block will become a hive of drivers double-parking and/or performing illegal u-turns as they rush off the food to the customers.
Somewhat laughably the applicant suggests that the majority of deliveries will be handled by bike:
Based on experience at other facilities, the Applicant expects that most of the customers will be within a two-mile radius, and most orders will be delivered by third parties. Therefore, the Applicant expects that many third-party pick-ups and deliveries will occur by bicycle.
GM would love if this were true, but it clearly isn’t remotely so. When people order through apps they are always going to get served by someone driving a car.
Obviously this already happens to an extent in Georgetown, but the vast majority of restaurants still get most of their business from dine-in patrons. And the few exceptions either have their own drivers (Paisano’s, e.g.) or are kind of a problem, actually. The worst manifestation of this is the Go Puff distribution center on Water St., which has a steady stream of dangerous driving to and from it all day long. This ghost kitchen would likely recreate that problem up on a stretch of Wisconsin that is dying for more vibrant activity. This doesn’t seem to be the type of activity that will actually improve this stretch.
Moreover, it’s not clear this will even work. A similar concept was tried up in Glover Park last year with Ghostline. It’s already closed.
GM hopes the ANC takes a close look at this zoning application with a focus on how the business plans to manage the constant delivery drivers which are crucial to their very model.