Manhattan, NY

Ghost Kitchen-itis - Nightmare on 5th Avenue

William "Dollar Bill" Mersey

It wasn’t long before I started working for DoorDash that my phone chimed for a pickup at 74 5th Avenue in Downtown Manhattan. So I pedaled over, checking the addresses, but saw nothing that resembled a restaurant or a building with the number 74 displayed at all prominently. Was this a mistake?

But then I saw the place. There were e-bikes parked all over the sidewalk and an open front door leading to what looked almost like a warehouse smack dab in the middle of Greenwich Village. I asked myself “What’s going on here?” as I locked the bike and strolled in.

The place looked like a bicycle store inside — an e-bike store. There must have been 20 bikes parked and an assortment of batteries and tire pumps on shelves. There was a counter where a girl called names as at least a half dozen dashers crowded around hoping she’d call out the name on their phone apps.

Yikes! It looked like Dasher Central. After about 10 minutes, I got my delivery and was on my way, still not really understanding what the hell the establishment I’d just picked up from was in the first place.

Over a matter of time (a short time), I got pinged to go to the same place a few times. And after those visits, I came to understand where I was. They call it a ghost kitchen. There’s no signage and no indication of anything when you roll up. People can’t eat there — or even walk up to order food. The place has multiple names on Uber, DoorDash, Seamless, and whatever else. And the only way you can order food from any of the many restaurants they call themselves on the app menus is to order from your phone.

In fact, the place is so busy that I eventually crossed it off my list. Every time I got an order from there, I had to wait to get the food. And that’s not how you make money dashing. You want to accept dashes from places you know are efficient that way. And 74 5th Avenue is rock bottom in that realm.

Well anyway — just yesterday — I was rolling across 14th Street when my phone chimed with a bare-bones five-bucker from a restaurant whose name I didn’t recognize. Business was slow and the dash only .3 miles. So I took the dog and then saw the dreaded “74 5th Avenue” as the address.

Just a few feet away, I decided to spend a minute getting there and if the food wasn’t ready, fire them out loud. Which means “What? My food’s not ready? What else is new in this joint? You’re fired,” whereupon I‘d unassign the dash and huff out making my point.

Not in the mood for nonsense, I decided I’d just roll in with my bike, ascertain the food wasn’t ready, register my discontent, and roll out.

As usual, the place was packed with bikes and dashers. With a purpose, I arrived at the counter to see a slack girl whose job it was to give out the packages. Alas, her eyes were glued to her phone and she was ignoring everybody.

I called out my customer’s name three times to which she did absolutely nothing. And then a Russian guy approached me to ask “What are you doing? Who said you could bring your bike in here?”

I looked at him quizzically as if to say “Are you out of your mind? There are 20 bikes in here.”

He read my mind and informed me of something I suspected. “These guys work here.”

I’d always figured there was a staff they prioritized on my previous visits. And he’d just confirmed it.

“Look! This place never has the food ready. You got the food? I’m out. You don’t? You’re fired! And why do you care? Do you own the place?”

He denied owning the joint but I had my suspicions. I continued.

“This place sucks. I never come here. But for some reason, the app doesn’t list your address when the phone chimes like it does with every other restaurant in the city. So I get fooled occasionally.”

To the “This place sucks” part he responded as if I was criticizing the food.

“The place sucks? We do 2500 deliveries a day!” he responded smugly. Whoa! I knew they were busy. But 2500 deliveries from a fake restaurant? That’s amazing! Still, I wasn’t all that impressed:

“How’s this, my man?” I fired back. “I got ten bucks says my food isn’t ready if we can get your lazy employee’s attention away from her phone.”

Suddenly, he was a deer in the headlights. Dude wasn’t about to lose ten dollars.

“Ya know what? You’re fired. I‘m dumping this,” I ended the conversation and unassigned the delivery.

He looked kind of hurt and offered “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

“Yeah, and I’m sorry somebody doesn’t shut down your ghost kitchen. There’s something under the radar and against the rules about this place,” I thought to myself.

The reader will recall that in response to literally tens of thousands of New Yorkers landing in hospital emergency rooms with food poisoning every year from eating out in the city, Mayor Bloomberg implemented a grading system that would be posted in the window of every licensed restaurant in the city. And now, they all do — except — you guessed it.

Maybe the food at 74 5th Avenue is good enough — or at least, people don’t get sick from it. But this kind of place is a vestige from the pandemic I really wish would go away — or at the very least, be monitored.

Thankfully, on this one occasion, I only blew a couple of minutes fooling around with this sketchy enterprise. I knew to cut my losses. And the next time I’m in that area and get chimed with a restaurant whose name I don’t recognize without an address, I’ll know what time it is, and continue as if the phone never did make me the offer.

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Alt views, news, and opinions from Greenwich Village, NY. Contributor for the Daily Beast, New York Daily News, Daily Mail, The Independent, and New York Times

New York, NY

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