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Ghost kitchens brings the restaurant home

By Nathan Tsukroff

GORHAM – “We’re bringing a restaurant experience to your home and your table.”

That’s how Karen Nason describes her new Ghost Karen’s Kitchens that will be offering gourmet-style foods from six different menus for delivery or pickup in the Gorham area.

Touted as “Six amazing menus under one roof”, the ghost kitchen at 29 School Street was Nason’s response to having her other venue, Grand Central Wine Bar at 7 Railroad Avenue, shut down for nearly seven months under Maine’s COVID-19 restrictions.

David Robinson puts toppings on a pizza under the watchful eye of co-chef Trent Seib and Ghost Karen’s Kitchens owner Karen Nason. The ghost kitchen will bring a “restaurant experience to your home and your table,” Nason said. (Tsukroff photo)

Nason said ghost kitchens is “a trend going across the country right now. It began in Boston, New York City and San Francisco.”

 “The good thing about ghost kitchens is that nobody’s coming in. No one’s going to complain about the wait staff. Nobody’s complaining about the parking. No one’s complaining about the décor . . . because you’re not coming in here, only to pick up. And we’re going to deliver to you.” 

According to Wikipedia, A ghost kitchen is a professional food preparation and cooking facility set up for the preparation of delivery-only meals.

Ghost Karen’s Kitchens prepares food for Brooklyn Benny’s, with pizza and submarine sandwiches; Bliss Bowl, offering gyoza, which are similar to dumplings with a thinner dumpling wrapper and more finely chopped stuffing; Soup Dogg & Salad, featuring a variety of soups and salads; Mykonos Mediterranean, that has Mediterranean styled meals and sandwiches; Backyard Burger, with a variety of burgers with toppings from countries around the world; and My Thai, with Pad Thai, Coconut Curry Bowl, and a Spicy Beef Rice Bowl on its menu.

“So your daughter wants pizza. You’ve decided you want My Thai food (it’s called My Thai!), and your wife would like our Bliss Bowl,” Nason said. “Well, there are six menus here. So consider it six different restaurants with 10 chefs.”

Chefs at the ghost kitchen have been furloughed or are out of work because of the pandemic. “So all these chefs that are out of work are coming here . . . these amazing chefs . . . and we’re creating this experience. It’s not takeout food that you’re used to,” Nason said.

“So all of these wonderful menus and desserts can be delivered to your home, with your wine choices and your beer, and you don’t have to move!” she said. Housed in a former bar/restaurant space, the kitchen is stocked with a selection of wines and craft beers curated by Nason. The handsome wood bar itself is no longer used for guests, but for lining up orders for delivery.

 Nason said the ghost kitchens are important because the COVID-19 pandemic “has already changed how you’re going out now. A lot of people aren’t going out at all.” 

The ghost kitchen is really a concept introduced by Domino’s Pizza decades ago. “You never went to Domino’s to sit down. You just wanted Domino’s to deliver,” she said. “They were  really the official first ghost kitchen, and they’re one of the few people that  have successfully done well” during the pandemic.

 “It’s like having Thanksgiving dinner” each night, because each person can have their choice of special food, Nason said.  So with “COVID stopping the restaurant experience, we’re going to bring it to you.”

Nason sees a positive side to the pandemic restrictions with families spending more time together. “I think we’ve learned to like eating at home with each other, which has been lacking for a very long time. Kind of our social graces kind of got lost along the way. You know, it’s nice to sit around the table and have dinner.”

Nason’s Grand Central Station Wine Bar is considered to be a lounge, not a restaurant, she said, and it offers a limited menu. Now, guests will be able to order a variety of meals to be delivered right to the wine bar for them to enjoy.

Nason graduated from Gorham High School in 1982, and moved from Gorham to New York City when she was 21 to pursue her singing dreams. She eventually owned a jazz bar and plant shop in New York City and a café in Hoboken. She returned to Maine with her attorney husband Frank DeGrim and calls Gorham home again.

David Robinson, one of the co-chefs in the ghost kitchen, is a fellow Gorham classmate and graduate. He was found in the kitchen recently creating the dough for the New York style pizzas found on the Brooklyn Benny’s menu. The pizza dough takes three days to get it ready for the oven, he said. Pizzas are baked in a brick-lined oven at about  600 degrees. The result is a thin, crunchy crust that enhances the flavor of the pizza toppings.

Just a block or two from the campus of the University of Southern Maine campus in Gorham, Ghost Karen’s Kitchens offers the students remaining on campus a variety of meals that are not found in the school’s food services.

Delivery of meals to the college will be by e-bike, Nason said. The bike has huge tires for a safe ride in inclement weather, and the built-in electric motor powers it at up to 20 mph. About 100 students remain on campus.

Other deliveries will be made by drivers working for the kitchen, or through outside services that include GrubHub and DoorDash.

Pickup of ordered meals can be made right in the lobby, using a special temperature controlled locker system with individual compartments. The kitchen will send a passcode to the customer to be used to open the compartment door with their meal or meals inside.

Bottles of wine are $24 each.

Ghost Karen’s Kitchens at 29 School Street, Gorham, is a take-out and delivery-only restaurant with six different menus. It opened this week with both delivery and pickup service. (Tsukroff photo)

Menus may be found at Ghostkitchensmaine.com. Consumers may place orders online or by calling (207) 222-2121.

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