Last week's news about a bizarre situation that felt like a scam, in which a restaurant serving a different menu that Kin Khao's appeared to be selling and delivering Thai food through Grubhub and Seamless under the Kin Khao name, has an update, and it's not going to inspire trust in the world of food delivery apps.
The Kin Khao delivery mishap — which was discovered when the owner of the Michelin-starred restaurant got a strange phone call from someone about an order, when Kin Khao has never offered takeout let alone delivery — allegedly involves a so-called "ghost kitchen" and a mix-up by Grubhub and its subsidiary site Seamless. Wired dug into the story and learned that Grubhub's automated system had apparently gone scraping through the web in order to input a menu to add to a listing for Kin Khao — why Kin Khao would be getting a Grubhub listing when it didn't want one is another story — and it had mistakenly come up with one from a "restaurant" called Happy Khao Thai, based on Mission Street.
The scare quotes are there because Happy Khao is a delivery-only business based out of a warehouse kitchen under a freeway in Potrero Hill, with a delivery hub based in a trailer behind a mostly demolished movie theater on Mission Street. As Wired describes, the Happy Khao delivery-driver pickup location sits beside "a pair of portable toilets," and it sounds every bit as un-appetizing as Kin Khao owner Pim Techamuanvivit had feared. As she tweeted after her discovery of the imposter listing last week, "They’re so hungry to get your money, they don’t care who makes the food they’re delivery to your home. It can be some rando dirty warehouse somewhere."
Happy Khao's food offerings — which, notably and sacrilegiously also includes Vietnamese pho — are allegedly being cooked in a warehouse being leased by Reef Technology in the Potrero Business Center at 1760 Cesar Chavez, underneath the 101 and 280 freeways. As Eater notes, the food is likely being made alongside food from other Reef brands which include Burger Bytes and Rebel Wings. Because Reef, not unlike Travis Kalanick's recently announced new venture, CloudKitchens, provides commissary kitchen space to business who can't invest in the overhead to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant, but just want to do food delivery.
The Chronicle also reports on this spate of ghost-kitchen restaurants springing up, writing, "This is the future of food — or at least one fast, cheap and dystopian future, that has drawn hundreds of millions of dollars of investment from venture capitalists." And they add that "Reef’s rapid push to serve the San Francisco delivery market is fueled by a large investment from Japan’s SoftBank, a technology and investment firm, which reportedly vaulted Reef into the ranks of unicorns, or privately held companies with a value of more than $1 billion."
But do consumers care whether their food is coming from reputable restaurant's actual kitchen, or from a commissary space or "ghost kitchen" that isn't even overseen by a real restaurant or named chef? The VCs are obviously thinking they don't, but they may not be right, especially after a few more stories like the Kin Khao one arrive.
For their part, a GrubHub spokesperson claimed to Wired that "no orders placed via the [Kin Khao] listing were linked to Happy Khao." But is that true? And how long had Happy Khao's not-quite-Michelin-level menu been advertised on the Seamless and Grubhub sites, alongside Kin Khao's actual address?
Grubhub hasn't exactly been doing all its business in the most transparent manner possible. As The Verge reported last year, Grubhub — the parent company of Eat24 and MenuPages as well as Seamless — has bought up some 23,000 domain names that resemble those of popular restaurants, then creating faux landing pages for the restaurants promoting delivery from Grubhub. Restaurant owners complained that this was misleading customers into thinking they were ordering directly from the restaurants themselves and bypassing delivery companies. But Grubhub argued that it was simply serving its customers' demands, and filling in delivery service with its drivers when some of these restaurants only offered takeout. This may have been the case with the allegedly automated creation of the Kin Khao listing in the first place, only there wasn't any confirmation done about whether Kin Khao would, in fact, fulfill a takeout order.
Meanwhile, as of last week, Kin Khao's Techamuanvivit told Wired that she and her lawyers were still investigating and deciding about a potential lawsuit against Grubhub. "They messed with the wrong Thai restaurant," she said.