Technology

A next-gen ghost kitchen goes poof in Chicago

Epic Kitchens was part of a wave of operators reimagining delivery-only restaurants. But less than two years after opening, its two virtual food halls are closed.
Epic Kitchens Chicago
Epic Kitchens in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood has been closed for several months. / Photos by Joe Guszkowski

Epic Kitchens, a player in a new wave of omnichannel ghost kitchens, has closed up shop in Chicago less than two years after opening.

The company had two virtual food halls offering food from multiple brands, including BurgerFi, 800 Degrees Pizza and Pokeworks. Customers could mix and match items from each brand for delivery, pickup or dine-in.

On Thursday, a sign taped to the door of Epic’s location in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood said it is closed until further notice. The message has been there since at least September, when Block Club Chicago first reported the store was closed.

Another outlet in the city’s South Loop also appeared to be closed. Same with a third location, in a CloudKitchens facility near downtown.

An email to CEO Murad Karimi bounced back, and messages to other employees went unanswered. Epic Kitchens’ website, meanwhile, appears to have changed hands.

Epic Kitchens exterior

Epic Kitchens in November 2021. It offered food from BurgerFi, Pokeworks, 800 Degrees Pizza and Blue Ribbon Chicken. 

The company was founded in 2020 by Mosaic Management, an Atlanta-based franchisee of Arby’s and Moe’s Southwest Grill. Its first location was in a CloudKitchens facility, where Epic licensed and operated multiple brands for delivery only.

That experience taught Epic the challenges of marketing restaurants that existed purely online, and the Lakeview store was designed to solve for that. The 2,250-square-foot space on a busy corner looked like a regular restaurant, except it offered four brands in one. It had a bright storefront, a dining room and a self-serve soda fountain. There were plans to turn a large pickup counter into a bar. Customers could order from Epic’s mobile app, in-store kiosks or third-party delivery apps—pretty much everywhere but at the counter. 

There was also a separate entrance for delivery drivers that had a wall of cubbies where they could grab orders. 

During a tour of the store in November 2021, Karimi said he believed the high-profile storefront and multiple ordering channels would help Epic drive more sales than delivery alone. “The battle to build digital sales can be very expensive,” he said. 

Epic Kitchens interior

Unlike traditional ghost kitchens, Epic Kitchens offered on-site ordering and ample seating. 

In that sense, Epic reflected a bigger trend in ghost kitchens. Restaurants that flocked to open delivery-only locations during the pandemic quickly learned that not having a physical storefront is a significant challenge. Many have since pivoted to a hybrid model like Epic’s.

Kitchen United has led the way with its virtual food halls, including one in downtown Chicago, where most of its business comes from walk-ins. CloudKitchens, Reef Kitchens and C3 are opening similar formats, as are a number of upstarts like Local Kitchens and Oomi Digital Kitchen.

It’s unclear why Epic Kitchens closed or what is next for the company. It had good ratings online and plenty of digital savvy, not to mention operations experience from its other franchises. It reportedly raised about $6 million in 2021 and had plans to open five more locations in Chicago.

On Thursday, its signage had been torn down and its digital menu boards were dark, though a QR code on the window still encouraged customers to "order here." It left the former ghost kitchen looking quite ghostly indeed.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.

Multimedia

Exclusive Content

Marketing

Older brands try new tricks in their quest to stay relevant

Reality Check: A number of mature restaurant chains are out to prove that age is just a number.

Financing

At Papa Johns, delivery shifts from its own apps to aggregators

The Bottom Line: The pizza delivery chain’s business with companies like Uber Eats and DoorDash is thriving while its own delivery is slowing. But this isn’t the beginning of the end of self-delivery, CEO Rob Lynch says.

Topics

How the shift to counter service has changed Steak n Shake's profitability

The Bottom Line: Sardar Biglari, chairman of the chain’s owner Biglari Holdings, details how the addition of kiosks and counter service has transformed restaurants.

Trending

More from our partners