photo via KitchenAF on Instagram
Note the stack of foil takeout trays in the background.
What do you call a restaurant where no one eats?
Until recently the answer might have been simply "out of business." Now, though, there's another answer: a "ghost kitchen."
KitchenAF, possibly the first example of this business model in the Orlando area, is a "restaurant" only in the sense that they prepare individual meals to sell to customers – but those meals are pickup or delivery only. There's no dining room, no wait staff – not even a cashier; KitchenAF operates through the DoorDash and UberEats apps.
Customers can mingle with delivery drivers near the pickup window in the KitchenAF facility at 3580 Aloma Ave. in Winter Park, but the vast majority of those eating their salads, burgers, wings, ribs, fried chicken, pasta and other comfort foods will experience it in their own homes, handed over by a gig-economy driver.
KitchenAF takes pride in working directly to this model:
Everything about KitchenAF concepts are designed from the ground up to hold and travel well, making sure you have a fantastic food experience. For example, no skinny french fries here, they get cold and old super fast, instead BurgerAF and CheesyAF serve tater tots, who’s mass holds the heat better making them better for delivery. You won’t find any styro containers here either, we use premium microwaveable and ventilated packaging that’s not only recyclable but transports the food much better. We even put our hot foods in kraft paper bags (also recyclable) because they hold in the heat much better than a plastic “t-shirt” bag ever can. Items like smothered tot ingredients or soups in bread bowls are packaged separately to maximize quality on arrival.
"This all started 10-plus years ago when we started advertising our catering business side, Chef 1 Studios, as about 10 different menus/concepts online with menus like 789 Deli, Somemore Italian, Bayou Vieux Cajun and Mac's Mexican Grille," says owner Jim Marshall. "When the UberEats-style services started to reach maturity, we realized we could now do the same thing with single meal delivery, since the delivery/ordering part of the equation is handled by them."
It's not easy to find KitchenAF directly on the apps or even on the web – diners who search for "burgers" or "wings" are more likely to find their offerings than those who search by restaurant. But looking for WingsandRibsAF, SaladAF, SweetAF, CheesyAF, BurgerAF or PastaAF on UberEats or DoorDash will take you to their menus and give you an idea of the KitchenAF cuisine aesthetic: craveable American comfort food classics, packaged carefully to avoid delivery pitfalls like sogginess.
Clearly owners Jim Marshall and Dan Weber have thought through all the expenses of restaurant ownership and cut to the bone costs like staffing, decor and payment systems, while optimizing the delivery experience by separating ingredients, using breathable containers and simply cutting items that don't travel well (like the aforementioned skinny fries).
The question now is, can they succeed without the branding profile that a traditional restaurant spends time and money on? The dining experience, even on delivery apps, is slanted toward brand identity – hippie-chic Mellow Mushroom versus family-friendly Pizzeria Valdiano; hometown fave Beth's Burger Bar versus nationwide Five Guys. KitchenAF will have to make their reputation on their food alone, and that may be a good thing.
Oh, and if you're wondering what the "AF" stands for, Marshall won't officially confirm that is means what you probably think it means. There's a whiteboard in the pickup area where people are invited to write down guesses, filled with phrases like "awesome food," "amazing flavor" and "adios, Felicia!" These guys are coy AF, huh?
KitchenAF serves from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., and entrees are priced in the $9-$12 range. Find menus at UberEats
or follow them on Facebook
So many restaurants, so little time. Find out the latest dining news every Friday morning with our weekly Food + Drink newsletter.