• Kyodo


In February, a kitchen-only restaurant opened in a residential area of Tokyo’s Nakano Ward. The menu ranges from Japanese dishes such as ochazuke — rice with tea poured on it​ — to Chinese dishes and salads. Food orders are accepted online, delivered home by specialized companies such as Uber Eats.

“Of course, there are no customers in the restaurant,” said Kenichiro Yamaji, who founded startup X Kitchen Inc. that runs the restaurant.

The recent concept of “ghost restaurant”, which originated in New York, is getting more attention. Although Japan isn’t new to take-out food, such a kitchen-only style is expected to be more popular given that it can be operated with small space and companies, such as Uber Eats, can take care of orders and delivery.

According to Yamaji, orders have particularly increased since Tokyo’s request to refrain from going out in late March. The firm runs one store in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward, and a new store is on the go.

Yamaji explains that unlike ordinary restaurants, “there is no need to prepare space for seats and tables for customers and secure locations in busy areas, so we can open stores without enormous costs,” he said.

Similarly, the so-called “cloud kitchens” allow multiple ghost restaurants to share the same kitchen at low cost. In Tokyo’s Meguro Ward, six ghost restaurants that serve Korean and Thai cuisine share a 60 square-meter kitchen space called Kitchen Base. All of them provide food through delivery firms, such as Uber Eats and Demae-can.

The new coronavirus has severely affected restaurant owners by imposing the temporary suspension of their activities or by shortening working hours. Moreover, while sales are declining, restaurateurs are under constant pressure to pay their rent in due time.

As a result, many existing food chains, including Japanese bars, attempt to run food delivery specialty stores under another name and outside business hours to compensate for their lost profits and increase stores’ occupancy rate.

Kazuo Yasui, Chief Executive Officer of Cookpy, a startup that helps eatery operators share their kitchens when not operating, predicts that as labor costs will rise due to labor shortage, the number of “ghost restaurants” will increase, even after the pandemic.

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