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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

One Mérida ghost kitchen goes by many names 

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A storefront on Avenida Canek in Mérida is home to numerous restaurant brands that come from one place. The public isn’t allowed to enter, but delivery drivers pick up meals-to-go at the front door. Photo: Yucatán Magazine

If you order meals on a delivery app, you might be under the impression that a lot of new restaurants are popping up west of the Centro. But your MrBeast burger, Crunch pizza, and Avocalia avocado toast are actually coming from the same place.

That’s because ghost kitchens, also called virtual kitchens, dark kitchens, and cloud kitchens, grew in popularity during the pandemic. 

And there’s a big one in Mérida. A company called Foodology operates as Bamboo Wok, Brunch & Munch, Freshlab, The Crunch pizza, Burritos & Co., and Avocalia, among other names. It has at least three burger brands. Get Smashed Burger competes with two celebrity names: MrBeast Burger, named for a hugely popular American YouTuber, and Dembow by Meluma, a Colombian rapper.

Asian food, wraps, pizza, and burgers, offered under different brands names, come from this one place on Avenida Canek, joining the growing global trend of delivery-only “ghost kitchens.” Photo: Yucatán Magazine

The logo for each has a distinct look and mood. But while they look like different restaurants on the app, they’re really under the same roof, in a strip mall on Avenida Jacinto Canek. 

Colombia-based Foodology was founded in 2019 — just before the pandemic-fueled restaurant delivery boom. They state online that they are “scaling restaurant brands across Latin America.”

As seen on a sign meant for delivery drivers, multiple brands are represented in a single “ghost kitchen.” They appear separately on Uber Eats and Rappi apps. Photo: Yucatán Magazine

Foodology is apparently spending money to get on top of searches, as well. A Rappi search for “huevos motuleños” resulted in two of their breakfast restaurants at the top — neither selling huevos motuleños. A search for “avocado toast” included two of their brands, selling what looked like the same thing and crowding out local independent restaurants from the screen. 

While restaurants are again serving in their own dining rooms, ghost kitchens remain a growing option on meal delivery apps such as Rappi and Uber Eats. 

The top two search results for “huevos motuleños” yields two Foodology breakfast brands on a food delivery app. Photo: Yucatán Magazine

Unlike kitchen groups that bring in existing restaurants, Foodology creates its own brands and menus from scratch based on consumer data compiled from the orders they receive. They study how many times a diner returns and why.

The ghost-kitchen trend could represent a sea change in Mexico, where most restaurants are independently owned. 

The global virtual kitchen market was valued at just over $43 billion in 2019 and is poised to grow to $71.4 billion by 2030, according to Statista. 

The trend could also represent opportunities for local, independent operations or smaller chains that see a brighter future in a delivery-only format. Existing brick-and-mortar restaurants can also link up with one of several companies that specialize in developing and promoting ghost kitchens. A recent order from Bostons was indicated to be from a virtual kitchen and not one of their full-service restaurants in Mérida. 

According to Business Insider Mexico, it takes Foodology six weeks to go from searching for kitchen space to actually selling food online.

Lee Steele
Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012.
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