Ando Ditchs the Dining Room

September 26, 2016



In a city where restaurants frequently blame closures on a brutal real estate market, a new solution has taken hold: Why not get rid of the dining room? Of course! If no one actually has to come to your restaurant, all sorts of problems are no longer an issue. You don’t need an attractive location, artistic ceramic bowls, quirky wallpaper in the bathroom, printed menus, service staff — way less risk of failure. Just put up a website, and install a button that says “delivery.”

The idea of the virtual restaurant, free of the weight of a brick-and-mortar dining room, is catching fire. A year-and-a-half ago, Seamless didn’t have any delivery-only restaurants. Now, it has at least a dozen in New York alone. Over in the Bay Area, delivery-only restaurants like Sprigand Munchery boast millions of dollars from Silicon Valley, while start-ups in the UK and France have also attracted hefty sums for delivering food. None of them have spaces that diners can visit to pick up their food. It’s the next big disruption, maybe — or an excuse for people to never leave their homes.

In New York, it’s an idea that’s grabbed none other than chef David Chang, always billed as a visionary and now also seeing stars in his eyes over the idea of a virtual restaurant. He always wanted to do delivery, but it never quite made sense at his other Momofuku restaurants, where the food wouldn’t travel well. He started thinking: What if we created a menu, with items like cheesesteaks and chicken tenders, that focused just on delivery? And what if the restaurant didn’t live on the street, but in your pocket as an app?

 Chang first threw his weight behind a delivery-only restaurant called Maple, signing on to be an investor of the “chef-inspired” company. Just a year later, he debuted his own delivery-only restaurant Ando with start-up lab Expa. He says it’s just like any other Momofuku restaurant, except you can’t go there — it goes to you. It’s being billed by some as what could save restaurant dining.

The people behind Ando have the start-up talking points down. The word “innovate” comes up a lot, as does the word “transform.” Food isn’t just cooked — it’s “engineered.” Customer orders are referred to as data points as much as they are as meals, and chicken is a “variable,” not just an ingredient.

This tech-laden language can likely be attributed to Hooman Radfar, the online marketing entrepreneur who co-founded Ando. He’s a partner in Expa, a start-up lab co-founded by Uber’s Garrett Camp, and he comes to the project on the heels of selling his previous company AddThis for $200 million. It made those Facebook and Twitter share buttons you see on websites sometimes. You can’t eat it.

Read the full article on Eater here.