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.

Exploring novel culinary experiences beyond the confines of traditional brick-and-mortar establishments has become an enticing prospect in the innovation hub of Silicon Valley.

In a strategic move, DoorDash has unveiled plans to establish a ghost kitchen at The Plant Shopping Center, situated off Curtner Avenue in San Jose. This cutting-edge model, centered on pickup and delivery services, enables emerging and non-local restaurants to test new markets without the burden of time and costs associated with establishing their own physical locations. Previous restaurant partners have primarily operated in San Francisco and Southern California. Moreover, DoorDash Kitchens generates employment opportunities for cooking staff and supervisors responsible for overseeing delivery and pickup orders.

Speaking to San Jose Spotlight, a DoorDash spokesperson highlighted the company’s mission to empower local economies. They stated, “DoorDash Kitchens… provides a cost-effective means for select restaurants to expand their business under one roof, offering consumers an enhanced selection in their area, while simultaneously creating additional earning opportunities for Dashers (food delivery workers).”

DoorDash assumes the responsibility of infrastructure development and permitting, collaborating closely with each business to co-design the space. The company also works alongside restaurant partners to refine their menus, catering to local food preferences, and extends support in terms of marketing. To maintain the highest standards, skilled chefs representing each restaurant operate within the ghost kitchen.

Sammuel Washington, President of the Silicon Valley Black Chamber of Commerce, expressed his belief that a well-managed and organized ghost kitchen has the potential to foster the success of a diverse range of new restaurants. Washington emphasized the value of this concept, remarking to San Jose Spotlight, “Many different cultures can come together and prepare a variety of dishes while operating from the same space. Additionally, a ghost kitchen offers a small startup the opportunity to commence their business operations with minimal costs, circumventing the burdensome overhead expenses typically associated with running a restaurant.”

Dennis King, Executive Director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Silicon Valley, acknowledged the potential of this model in supporting businesses impacted by the pandemic, while also expressing reservations. King commented to San Jose Spotlight, “If this initiative serves as a stepping stone to assist struggling local businesses in efficiently expanding their services, then it is certainly worthy of celebration. However, if this merely represents a means for DoorDash to maintain its dominance in the delivery service market, it could be perceived as additional competition.”

Ghost kitchen concepts gained traction in the South Bay during 2021. Considered an economic boon for downtown San Jose amidst the pandemic, City Storage Systems, a real estate firm owned by former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, created spaces for CloudKitchens, accommodating restaurants primarily focused on delivery and pickup services. Local Kitchens also introduced a digital food hall situated north of downtown, with an emphasis on direct customer pickup and heavily relying on online ordering.

The DoorDash Kitchens concept functions as a temporary pop-up initiative. Its inaugural Bay Area location opened in Redwood City in October 2019, followed by a second establishment operating from July to 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, Co-founder of the Silicon Valley Restaurant Association, voiced his support for the introduction of another restaurant incubator into the local economy. Truong noted the substantial costs associated with launching a restaurant and emphasized that ghost kitchens could serve as a lifeline for minority-owned establishments unable to immediately afford a physical presence. “What DoorDash is undertaking is commendable,” Truong stated to San Jose Spotlight. “Introducing more options into the market benefits the entire restaurant ecosystem, particularly for aspiring entrepreneurs who can fully commit to their business ventures.”

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