Virtual Diners

Casey Lewis was scrolling through Seamless looking for a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich when it occurred to her: “What are all of these random ass breakfast offerings?” Lewis has lived in Williamsburg for years and describes herself as a regular user of Seamless, but on April 6 she noticed a slew of new businesses listed on the delivery app: All Day Breakfast, the Best Breakfast Company, Anytime Breakfast Sandwiches, and others. “The names were so generic,” she says. “Something seemed off.”

It turns out all three of the businesses — and more than a dozen others — are tied to the same address in Williamsburg, which belongs to the neighborhood’s decades-old 24-hour diner Kellogg’s.

At first glance, the businesses tied to Kellogg’s might resemble ghost kitchens, but they’re actually part of a newer class of online restaurants called “virtual brands,” according to Scott Landers, co-founder of delivery consultancy Figure 8, whose clients have included restaurant chains like &Pizza and Mexicue.

While ghost kitchens operate out of separate commercial spaces that don’t have a physical dining room, virtual brands operate out of brick-and-mortar restaurants that already exist. Companies come up with the brands — which usually consist of just a logo, a name, and a short menu — then license them out to restaurants and bars, who execute the recipes and package them for takeout and delivery.