Mobile kitchens that cater solely to food delivery services, like Uber Eats and DoorDash, sound like a great idea in theory, as dedicated delivery kitchens can ship food faster without having to worry about transmitting meals. to servers. But a report of The Wall Street Journal details some of the incidents associated with a trailer-linked ghost kitchen business, Reef, which involves third-degree burns and regulatory violations.
In April alone, the WSJ reports that a Reef kitchen in Houston, Texas had two violent accidents in just four months. One involved an explosion that erupted from the kitchen’s propane burners – and in a stroke of luck, the cook escaped unscathed.
While the cook escaped harm – she opened a fridge at the same time that shielded her from the flames – it was the second such incident at the same Houston trailer in four months. The first injured another cook, as the flames scorched her face and caused third-degree burns on her hands that stripped the skin from her fingers, rendering her unable to work.
This chaos becomes a little less surprising when you realize that Reef didn’t actually start out in the food business. According to WSJ, Reef (formerly ParkJockey) originally sought to transform portions of parking lots into parks filled with trailers containing different service areas. After receiving $1.2 billion in funding from SoftBank in 2018, it acquired two parking management companies, becoming “the largest parking network in North America.”
And although Reef is apparently a parking tycoon, he still has trouble getting a suitable parking spot to pitch his trailers. the WSJ found that the company had to resort to rental parking for more than 70% of its kitchens.
Reef found that it was unable to put trailers on many of its lots because some had closed garages, where propane tanks and utility hookups are not allowed. Others were owned by owners who didn’t want food trucks, former employees said.
Additionally, some cities classify Reef trailers as food trucks, which means the company often has to tow its trailers to the marshals to fill up with water — sometimes shelling out $20,000 for towing in one go. single day, as noted by the WSJ. To complicate matters further, the trailers are not designed for use on the road, which can put strain on propane lines and lead to leaks. Reef has also been the victim of various infractions, including some for operating without a license and failing to tow trailers to dedicated marshals after use, resulting in more than 25 trailers being suspended since this summer.
Despite all these glaring problems, the WSJ says Reef’s food revenue hit $12 million in September, up 600% from last year. Wendy’s, Burger King, and Popeye’s also reportedly have deals with Reef, meaning if you’re having your food delivered from some of these locations, you won’t even know it came from a trailer. According to WSJReef currently has around 350 mobile kitchens.
Reef does have some competition though in the form of CloudKitchens, former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Kalanick’s floating kitchen business also appears to be experiencing operational difficulties, but of a different kind. It would suffer from the same kind of chaos that surrounded Uber under Kalanick’s leadership, including high turnover rates and an “aggressive internal culture.”
Whether you’ve never heard of ghost kitchens or pass one every day, this WSJ report gives you insight into how the business works.