Monday, December 11, 2023

Phantom restaurants…

By Zander Frost, Chronicle Staff Writer

I recently used Doordash — the Internet delivery app — for the first time locally. To my surprise, lots of restaurants were listed I’d never seen or heard of.

Have you tried Big Spoon Cafe? Mama Food Mart? Beast Burger? Sammie Up? Wings to Go? They’re all listed as local restaurants available for delivery.

I did some sleuthing. Big Spoon Cafe and Sammie Up both list their address at Aviation Mall.

There are corporate websites for both, but no locations. But at the bottom of the page was: “© 2022 99 Restaurants, LLC.”

What seems to be a standalone restaurant apparently operates out of 99’s kitchen. It makes sense. Extra revenue, no overhead.

Each restaurant has its own user reviews. A casual customer has no idea they’re actually ordering from 99.

Cameron’s glad to talk; 99 doesn’t

I called 99 and spoke to an assistant manager. He said he could not talk to me without corporate approval — he wouldn’t even confirm if these restaurants were operating out of their kitchen.

I tried several times to get through to the General Manager and failed.

I also sought details about Mama Food Mart and Wings to Go. It turns out both are incorporated businesses at Cameron’s

Deli on Dix Avenue in Queensbury.

I spoke with Sam Makhlouf, who said he has owned Cameron’s since August 2021. He was extremely forthcoming.

He said Doordash offered to add the extra restaurants.

“I didn’t ask why,” Mr. Makhlouf laughed. He said he told them, “Just do whatever you want to do.” Doordash didn’t do the incorporating, though.

Does it bring in more money?

“Not really,” Mr. Makhlouf said. “Three or four orders a day.”

Wings to Go has unique items and generates a few hundred dollars in sales each week, he said, but Mama Food Mart has the same menu as Cameron’s and makes less. “It’s not a big deal,” he said.

Beast Burger hot seller for Friendly’s

Beast Burger delivers out of Friendly’s on Aviation Road — delivery and online order only.

Friendly’s Assistant Manager Lindsay Ireland said, “We’re doing it and a couple other [Friendly’s] stores are doing it.”

“It’s very popular,” she said. “Some days a couple hundred dollars, some other days are in the high $500, $600, $700.”

Beast Burger is the creation of MrBeast aka Jimmy Donaldson. The 24 year old is one of the biggest Youtubers ever — with 102-million subscribers on one channel alone.

Its “smashed” burger offerings are named after MrBeast’s Youtube cohorts; like Beast-, Chris-, or Chandler Style.

“I like it,” Ms. Ireland said. “It’s good to bring that in the restaurant. I didn’t know who he was until we got it, but my kids watch him on YouTube.” Beast Burger calls itself a delivery-only “virtual brand,” that “operates out of existing restaurant kitchens, allowing restaurateurs to add a new source of revenue without impacting the operation.”

Seeking restaurant participants

Virtual Dining Concepts (VDC) operates Beast Burger among other “restaurant” brands — like Mariah’s [Carey’s] Cookies, “Steve Harvey’s Family Food,” and a Cheesesteak brand based on a Barstool Sports podcast.

Their website has a recruiting section, “Which Brands Work For Me?”

Kitchen owners indicate what equipment they have — like Oven, Pizza Oven, Freezer, Fryer, Flat Top, or Refrigeration, the cuisine they prepare, and their size.

Then VDC offers a list of brands it thinks the kitchen could support.

I tested it out as a prospective restaurateur. I was offered “The Real Housebowls,” based on the The Real Housewives series on Bravo.

Meanwhile, I may have to try a Beast Burger — “smashed” burgers are popular in California but uncommon locally.

But that night I ordered from the local favorite Morgan and Company instead.

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