What does a ghost kitchen mean to a college chef? As someone who’s seeking new menus and concepts to meet the changing tastes and trends of college students, a ghost kitchen can conjure up some dazzling solutions. When a concept eliminates a physical restaurant space, limitations can evaporate, too, meaning it’s easy to change it up. And a kitchen that focuses on delivery means customers don’t have to leave the comfort of their couch to manifest some great meals.
At the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va., the Sodexo dining team is delivering comfort food through a ghost kitchen that’s been tested and approved by those dining from their couch.
The upsurge in demand for food delivery during the pandemic caused Chef David Schneider, GM of University Dining at UMW to challenge his management team, led by Executive Chef Peter Stine, to come up with a ghost kitchen concept and menu.
Photo: The hallmark of a ghost kitchen: The food is ready to go and easy to transport.
Schneider and Stine worked together with Operations Director Evelyn Shea, Catering Executive Chef Rigoberto Mendoza, Comptroller Renee Dees, Dining Director Lance Mailem and Marketing Manager Rose Benedict to research and develop the ghost kitchen.
Looking at national and local food trends (hello, chicken sandwich wars!), the team decided to build the ghost kitchen menu around Southern-style chicken tenders, an undisputed favorite among college students just about everywhere. Chef Stine created a chickpea breading recipe so the tenders could be gluten-free, another preference that’s continuing with consumers. The result is a down-home, gluten-free chicken concept called 1301 Hen House that students can order through the campus Grubhub app.
One especially cool thing about a ghost kitchen from a college foodservice perspective is how relatively easy it is to morph into something different as tastes and trends ebb and flow.
“Right now, we’re offering a menu built around gluten-free chicken tenders and curly fries,” Schneider says, “but if customer preferences took a major swing in another direction, we could basically become a brand-new restaurant, with a new name, concept and menu within a couple of weeks. All of the infrastructure is already in place.”
The team is looking forward to using ghost kitchens as a way to partner with catering and highlight more local features and also to be more visible in the—increasingly virtual—campus marketplace.