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‘Not So Dark’ ghost kitchen arrives in Barcelona, reigniting debate over the business model

Delivery-only restaurants are disrupting the market during the pandemic, but some neighbours are wary of co-existence problems

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25 March 2021 03:12 PM

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ACN | Barcelona

Update: On March 25, 2021, shortly after this article was published, the Barcelona city council suspended the licenses of dark kitchens operating in the Catalan capital for one year. 

The decision was made by the governing committee with the aim of preventing the businesses from proliferating in an uncontrolled manner, while the council have also given themselves time to draw up regulations that order this new type of activity.

At the moment, the city council do not know how many dark kitchens are operating in Barcelona. 

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A new ‘dark kitchen’ has opened up in Barcelona, reigniting the debate surrounding how these establishments operate. 

The French company Not So Dark have already been up and running in Catalonia for a week, their first venture outside the French market. 

The term “dark kitchen” also goes by many other names, including ‘ghost kitchen’, ‘virtual kitchen’, ‘cloud kitchen’, or even quite simply ‘delivery-only restaurant’. 

Dark kitchens are food businesses that don’t have any premises that can be visited in-person, no tables, chairs, ambience or atmosphere  a restaurant operating solely for delivery services. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has only served to make the business model a more attractive option.

Not So Dark, based in Sant Gervasi in the Catalan capital, deliver meals to homes from six different restaurant brands they operate with, all of which only exist online. 

Co-existence problems

The debate surrounding these fantom restaurants often circulates on the businesses being destructive for the community in which they are based, annoying neighbours with sounds, smells, and sometimes smoke when they are set up in residential areas. 

The controversy over this business model does not go over the heads of the company's founders, but they say that in their kitchens "a level of hygiene, quality and monitoring" is achieved.

Clément Benoit, one of the co-founders of the group, is pleased with the company’s beginnings in Barcelona, telling the Catalan News Agency that they have learned many lessons from their other ventures in France, mistakes they will not repeat. 

“The first mistake we made was not thinking about the neighbours and the local area," Benoit explained. 

Therefore, the location they have chosen to operate from Barcelona, ​​located in Travessera de Gràcia, has a kind of anteroom inside that works as a small garage where delivery workers can access by bike or motorcycle and wait until orders are ready, to avoid having them wait on the street.

They have also worked to soundproof the premises and install adequate smoke extraction, in order not to be an inconvenience for locals. In total, its new facilities in Sant Gervasi, the company has invested more than €1 million.

In Barcelona, the company employs 40 staff members, with a capacity of around 2,000 meals a day

Neighbours of Sant Martí, at war

The residents of Sant Martí, Barcelona, have been at war since they learned of plans to build a new dark kitchen in their neighbourhood, and have already called for a protest this Thursday. 

At the moment, construction has been paused for almost three weeks and the project is still in a very early phase, but the residents fear the worst and have already hung signs on their balconies against the business model arriving.

Salvador Mañosas, president of neighbours association in Sant Martí, says that they are in contact with Madrid residents affected by dark kitchens in operation and that know the consequences that such businesses can have on the day-to-day life of a street or area.

He explained to the Catalan News Agency that residents are afraid of the impact it could have on businesses, pedestrians, and also residents of the flats surrounding the space. 

He points out that they are concerned about the noise from motorcycles and the loading and unloading of food or products and smells that would arise. 

“People won’t allow that,” he indicates. In fact, he says that there are already several associations and entities in the area that oppose it and are in consultation with lawyers and architects.

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  • The interior of the Not So Dark kitchen in operation in Barcelona (by Blanca Blay)

  • The interior of the Not So Dark kitchen in operation in Barcelona (by Blanca Blay)

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