New owner embraces ‘virtual’ trend to be viable — one menu, different names
By Charlotte Aguilar
Google the address of the Bellaire Broiler Burger — 5216 Bellaire Blvd. — and you might be surprised at what other businesses pop up.
In fact, as Essentials went to press (this story first appeared in our May 2022 edition), there were at least eight other “restaurant concepts” invisibly operating from the cramped kitchen in the food truck at that location, two of them specializing in strangely similar burgers and accompaniments.
Bellaire Broiler Burger is now the headquarters of a virtual — or ghost — kitchen, a phenomenon that gained popularity during the lockdowns and isolation of the pandemic when restaurants couldn’t handle customers but could prepare and deliver food — and analysts say they might be here to stay. As restaurants face a crisis in finding workers, the slimmed-down staffing for these virtual kitchens also has an appeal to owners.
In addition to the signature business, Crave, Outlaw and Veggie burgers are three brands operating out of the Bellaire location. There are hotdog, breakfast, taco and grilled cheese concepts, too.
Simply put, vacant or underused kitchens can contract to custom prepare recipes through a sort of broker who determines which franchises are most suitable for the demographics of an area. Or as in the case of the Bellaire Broiler Burger, an owner may see the venture as smart use of resources and a chance for additional profit by getting a percentage of the sales prepared at their location.
The virtual restaurants are listed on food delivery services, which handle the orders and dropping them off. Owner Jason Scheinthal utilizes DoorDash, UberEats and GrubHub for ghost kitchen deliveries, with Broiler Burger as a pickup or dine-on-site business (on picnic tables outside) for now.
“The general idea is that everything is a double use or triple use item,” new BBB owner Scheinthal explains. “We optimize our efficiency, utilize our labor fully, and have very little waste.” The crossover includes food items to things like condiments, napkins and utensils.
Scheinthal ran his previous bar-restaurant, 1836, as a ghost kitchen, too. He says the Bellaire venture has started promisingly — that about 20 percent of his business comes from these virtual concepts.
But it begs the question: Are customers getting Broiler burgers, or Crave burgers, or Outlaw burgers? A look at the menus and the food itself deepens the confusion.
A mushroom, cheese and onion burger (not on the old BBB menu) for instance, is identical for all three except for a variation on the sauce. The mushrooms on all have the flavor of truffle, an ingredient that likely never entered the old Broiler Burger. Fries and sweet potato tots and a salted caramel brownie dessert are identical products at all three.
Scheinthal maintains that it is “not the tail wagging the dog. The Broiler Burger recipes are the ones we’re using for the other concepts.”
The other not-so-stealthy ghost kitchen in Essentials’ coverage area is operated out of Buca di Beppo on Buffalo Speedway, which offers celebrity chefs’ brands. Guy Fieri’s FlavorTown Kitchen and Buddy V’s Cake Slice are both there, with comedian George Lopez’s Tacos reportedly moving from there to Bellaire.
The largest ghost kitchen in Houston is believed to be one with 12 different restaurants operating out of a supermarket in the Heights. Customers can mix foods from the different concepts and have them delivered as one order.