We are a Modern Italian virtual restaurant/ghost kitchen in Sarasota, Florida, specializing in seasonal, locally sourced ingredients with a focus on naturally leavened “sourdough” Neopolitan and Detroit style pizzas and pastas. We opened during the COVID shutdown in 2020 while I was furloughed from the restaurant I was working as a chef. We first began by only offering contactless, curbside pickup and were one of, if not the first, in our area to do so. Operating only one day a week, customers would pre order online a few days in advance through our website and pickup at the desired time at the shared kitchen we work out of. After restrictions began to loosen, and people were going out more, we partnered with a local trendy bar and taproom called 99 Bottles to do a service out of their kitchen.
We mainly do Neopolitan style, but also do a Detroit-style pan pizza as well. We use an organic “00” flour from the Midwest, and leaven it with 100-percent sourdough starter (no commercial yeast) that I made from scratch about five years ago and feed on a daily basis. Our Neopolitan has a higher hydration than a traditional Neapolitan and has a two-part baking process at different temperatures. This gives us the classic leopard spotting on the dough but with more of a crisp than that of a wood fired Neapolitan.
What was the driving force that made you want to open a ghost kitchen? Why start a ghost kitchen?
Having been in the restaurant industry my whole life I’ve always wanted to have my own someday. It is very difficult to do if you don’t have the means available to you. I had read about ghost kitchens and saw similar concepts popping up in some of the bigger cities. Partnering with the shared kitchen we work out of has been a great way to start a brand and grow it from the ground up using the leanest model possible. The intent was that as we grow and scale our business, we can incrementally increase the space we use and the amount of time we rent. Being that I also hold a full-time job as a chef at other concepts, this has been crucial to our success. It was my goal that I would be able to grow it into my “main hustle” and that when that day comes, we will have already created a strong following to open a brick and mortar with.
What are some of the elements that you had to establish to get your ghost kitchen off the ground?
Aside from the typical licensing and what not, it was crucial to find a commercial kitchen that we could rent by the hour. We were lucky to find a great one in Sarasota (Your Culinary Place) that wanted to bring ghost kitchen concepts to the area, and we happened to be the first. We also had to establish a brand identity and a menu that was small enough to easily execute, but broad enough to fully encompass everything we wanted to do as a full restaurant someday, so our menu is consistently changing and evolving. We also had to set up an online ordering system where pre-order was available. Since we are a small operation, we also had to figure out how to limit the orders within a certain time frame. We used a combination of both Square and Tock ordering systems. Since it was a new concept for the area, the system was new to most people, but it caught on pretty quickly. We also had to figure out how to make Neopolitan style pizzas without investing a ton of money at the beginning.