Rick Bayless gets into the ghost kitchen game

With airport business temporarily paused, Bayless is making his Tortas Frontera concept available through Kitchen United.

Restaurateur Rick Bayless is making his first entry into the ghost kitchen space.

Bayless’ Tortas Frontera concept has been a popular option for travelers since it first opened at O’Hare International Airport through a partnership with HMSHost. All three O’Hare locations are temporarily closed amid the pandemic, so Bayless is launching a pickup and delivery-only location through Kitchen United, he announced Thursday.

Pickup and delivery of Tortas Frontera dishes will also be available through Bayless’ Tortazo restaurant at Willis Tower. The two new off-premise locations will mean that Tortas Frontera’s delivery radius will cover the bulk of downtown Chicago, the restaurant said.

“Over the years, I have met countless people who have shared their deep love and gratitude for Tortas Frontera, many even routing their flights through O’Hare in order to enjoy their favorite torta,” Bayless said in a statement.  “During this time of reduced travel, I’m thrilled to partner with Kitchen United to bring Tortas Frontera to Chicago residents where they live and work.”

Tortas Frontera serves tortas, soups, salads, guacamole and more, with a focus on local ingredients.

“Restaurant models are evolving to meet growing consumer demand for off-premise dining,” Kitchen United CEO Jim Collins said in a statement. “Tortas Frontera is part of a truly iconic Chicago restaurant family.”

There was growing interest in virtual kitchens pre-pandemic, but the trend has boomed in recent months.

Sterling Douglass, CEO of POS integration company Chowly recently estimated there are 100,000 virtual concepts available via third-party apps.

In 2018, Philippines-based foodservice giant Jollibee Foods Corp. invested more than $12 million in Tortas Frontera, a 47% stake in the fast-casual concept.


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