On Ghost Kitchen Futures and Putting Portland’s Restaurant Scene Out of Its Misery

The Intelligence Brief is our weekly compendium of food and drink news sourced from outlets all over the world, including right here at home.

Another week, another record set. Friday came with news of 617 new cases of Covid-19 in the province, the highest single-day number of new cases in BC since the beginning of the pandemic. New models show that the new cases in the province are doubling every 13 days. A week into new restrictions for VCH and Fraser Health regions and residents are still waiting to see what kind of effect they’ll have on rising numbers. In the meantime, we continue to cover how the food and beverage industry is navigating these challenging times…

Speaking of these new restrictions, here’s Dr. Bonnie Henry explaining why it’s ok to go out to eat in a restaurant but not to have friends and family over to your home for dinner.

“Through contact tracing and other measures, health officials are looking at where patients who’ve tested positive have been exposed enough to get the disease. Often, it’s not in a public place, but at a private home. Where they’re not seeing much transmission, she said, is in places with adequate COVID-19 plans in place.”

Despite the precarious times, the city is still seeing a number of new restaurants opening. First: Street Auntie Aperitivo House on Granville St. is offering up dishes inspired by Chinese street food.

Next, Main Street will soon be home to the second location of Sula Indian Restaurant.

While still several months from opening, Mt. Pleasant will also welcome Saola, a new restaurant drawing inspiration from Southeast Asia.

And while some doors open, others close: restaurant chain Milestones – which first opened its doors in Vancouver in 1989 – closed its last location in the city this month.

Already struggling restaurants in Portland, Oregon are now facing an even more uncertain future with the start of a month-long dining service ban:

Eric Nelson, the co-owner of Eem, gave a cut-and-dry forecast for the Oregon restaurant industry on Wednesday: “We’re all fucked.”

San Francisco chef Pim Techamuanvivit on the struggles of keeping a restaurant open through the global pandemic.

How an uptick in ghost kitchens during the pandemic may change the way the industry does business well into the future:

“Virtual brands, ghost kitchens, delivery-only concepts — whatever you call them — have thrived during COVID-19. Euromonitor, a market research firm, recently estimated that they could be a $1 trillion business by 2030. That’s happening concurrently with near-impossible working conditions for many brick-and-mortar restaurants. Stores in cities that once did a brisk lunch business saw sales fall off a cliff. To mitigate losses, some restaurants are throwing everything they have at virtual expansion, creating entirely new brands that live online.”

Pop-ups have also been increasing since the beginning of the pandemic as laid off staff find each other and create something new in the wake of ongoing industry losses:

“Side Pie is one of many examples of food industry folks not just pivoting but reimagining their careers. They are restaurant workers who felt constrained by the hierarchical structure of kitchens, bound by their paychecks, and lacking time and energy to pursue their own culinary ideas. When they were furloughed in mid-March or the pandemic eventually caused the restaurants they were working at to close, they were faced with a sudden freedom. And instead of waiting for restaurants to reopen and jobs to resurface, they chose to chart new paths.”

Similarly, out-of-work chefs are finding shared kitchen spaces to continue to connect and work amid increasing restaurant closures around the globe.

While we’re on the subject of pop-ups, consider checking out Vancouver’s recent pop-up concept Yasma offering up Syrian and Lebanese fare in Kits.

As Europe closes bars and restaurants while keeping schools open, some parts of the US have opted for a different approach: The New York Times reports.

Where the US federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has failed to protect food and agriculture workers during the pandemic, some state-level health authorities have stepped in: Mother Jones reports:

“Regulators in California and Oregon have fined agricultural employers more than $400,000 — twice as much as the fines handed out so far by federal OSHA — for workplace violations linked to the pandemic. About half the states, like California and Oregon, have their own OSHA offices, and half are regulated under federal OSHA.”

Seeing as we could all use a bit of extra comfort these days, check out Scout’s guide to the city’s best  comfort food including Vij’s lamb popsicles.

Finally, while post-pandemic recovery may feel too distant to think about just yet, some are already envisioning more sustainable futures that include an urgent focus on food security.

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