Travis Kalanick just announced he's leaving Uber's board to focus on his business pursuits. Here's a look at his secret 'ghost kitchen' startup that's backed by $400 million from Saudi Arabia"

Katie Canales/Business InsiderA delivery worker signing in on a tablet inside San Francisco’s CloudKitchens location.

Travis Kalanick, the ousted Uber cofounder, has pivoted from the ride-hailing industry to another kind of shareable market: “ghost kitchens.”

Part of Kalanick’s acquisition of the real-estate company City Storage Systems, CloudKitchens – a startup he’s been rather hush-hush about – rents commercial space to offer delivery-only restaurants and chefs a place to prepare food without having to worry about maintaining the dine-in portion of a brick-and-mortar location.

There are many names for these kitchens – commissary, virtual, dark, cloud, or ghost kitchens – but the idea is that restaurateurs can rent out space in them to prepare food that can be delivered through platforms like DoorDash or, yes, UberEats, which was launched during Kalanick’s time at the company. Kalanick was CEO of Uber until 2017, and in December sold 90% of his stock in the company before saying he would leave the company’s board.

Commissary kitchens are “essentially WeWork for restaurant kitchens,” as TechCrunch’s Danny Crichton wrote. These “smart kitchens,” as they’re called on the CloudKitchens website, can come with everything a restaurant or chef needs, like sinks, WiFi, and electricity.

They have become a hot trend in the food-delivery arena, allowing existing restaurants to be closer to a market without shelling out the cash needed for a brick-and-mortar location. They also allow chefs to work without having to deal with the risky business of opening a new restaurant.

And the kitchens can also do marketing for these businesses, another perk.

Kalanick’s CloudKitchens is right in line with the growing trend – so much so that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund funneled $US400 million into the startup in January in what was the first known financial backing by the country since the murder of the American journalist Jamal Khashoggi, The Wall Street Journal reported this week.

There are already CloudKitchens locations in Chicago and Los Angeles, but The Journal’s Rolfe Winkler and Rory Jones reported that one had been established in San Francisco’s SoMa district, though exactly when is unclear. CloudKitchens did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

The Journal’s report said the kitchen is at 60 Morris St., though you’ll find with a quick Google search of “CloudKitchens San Francisco” that it doesn’t necessarily want to be found.

Nevertheless, we paid Kalanick’s San Francisco ghost kitchen a visit to see what it’s like. Check it out.

CloudKitchens’ San Francisco location is in the city’s SoMa district, a neighbourhood that has been taken over by new housing and trendy tech offices in recent years.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderThe iconic Coca-Cola sign can be seen from the Morris Street alleyway.

Source: 7X7

It’s wedged in a nondescript alleyway. When we visited, an Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria truck was parked in front of the kitchen before driving off.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

There’s not much to indicate the kitchen’s location except for a fairly bustling stream of delivery workers coming and going, or standing and waiting to pick up their orders.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderParked cars and a delivery worker awaiting his order near the CloudKitchens pick-up area.

A sign on the building says “no parking,” though there were plenty of parked cars that presumably belonged to the waiting delivery workers.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Inside was a delivery window and a row of tablets where drivers were instructed to sign in.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

The mural behind the tablets had San Francisco-centric phrases like “Fog City” and “hella,” a slang term that supposedly originated in the Bay Area. Through a door to the left of the tablets was a hallway where the kitchen stations likely are.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Above the delivery window was a TV screen displaying order statuses.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderA woman there held a red DoorDash delivery bag.

The couriers listed were GrubHub, UberEats, and DoorDash, alongside orders from delivery-only restaurants like Moonbowls, $US5 Salad Company, Colombo’s, and Zoodle2.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderA sign that said ‘bathrooms for drivers inside’ was posted on the wall beside the screen.

You’ll find the same address listed for all those brands online: 60 Morris St.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderDelivery workers waiting for their orders.

We also saw delivery bags bearing the logo for Sweetgreen, the fast-casual salad chain, which also has a brick-and-mortar location in SoMa.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

CloudKitchens isn’t the only ghost-kitchen startup making waves. Kitchen United is backed by Google’s venture branch, GV, and Amazon recently announced its foray into the market.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderAn employee at the kitchen walking back to work after a break.

Source: Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch

Even food-delivery platforms are getting in on the action. DoorDash recently announced the opening of its own commissary kitchen in Redwood City, about an hour south of San Francisco.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderA DoorDash delivery worker on the streets of San Francisco.

Source: SFGate

As Americans increasingly lean in to getting takeout, the ghost-kitchen market will likely get even hotter.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

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