There is a new phenomenon happening all across America and it is happening because of the deaths and economic destruction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
No, it is not a Zombie invasion, although some businesses can attest to barely escaping becoming members of the walking dead and are alive only because of the help received from the federal government. In today’s restaurant parlance, this phenomenon has come to be referred to as a ghost kitchen, otherwise known as a cloud kitchen.
Ghost kitchens are restaurants that operate without having a brick and mortar location. Their products are available primarily through delivery services, although some do offer curbside pickup.
There are two examples of ghost kitchens operating in the Asheville area — the Big South Kitchen and Good Asheville Food.
While they are both ghost kitchens, that is where the similarly ends.
Big South Kitchen, as its name implies, offers a wide variety of southern barbecue favorites like hickory-smoked pulled pork, beef brisket, wings and baby back ribs. The kitchen is a part of the Big South Restaurant Group, owned by Jeff Rigsby, who has 107 restaurants, including Bojangles popular across the Carolinas.
Rigsby had long thought of opening a ghost kitchen, and when the pandemic hit, he said the time seemed right.
“At Big South Kitchen we believe that we’re never too busy to eat together,” reads the company’s website. “After all, life happens around the dinner table. It’s where we connect with one another, where we laugh a little longer and tell the stories that never seem to get old.”
Of course, at the center of all those stories is great food that serves to bring us together.
“This simple and time-honored idea is what Big South Kitchen is all about,” said Rigsby. “ Our passion for big, bold flavors is unrivaled, and our style of culinary excellence is unmistakably Southern. These recipes have been passed down through the generations and they do more than delight our taste buds and satisfy our cravings. They remind us of our favorite family traditions and invite us to start a few of our own.”
Bringing the ghost kitchen to life was a matter of shifting perspective.
“We had a test kitchen at our Bojangles western North Carolina headquarters in Arden that wasn’t being used, so we decided to open up a barbecue kitchen utilizing the ghost concept,” said Director of Operations, Tony Birch. “We have a corporate chef, Josh Musselwhite, who has more than 25 years experience overseeing day-to-day operations. In addition, Mr. Rigsby is actively involved in the operation. We began to plan the kitchen in February and officially opened on Sept. 28, 2020.”
When asked if he expected the concept to continue after pandemic restrictions were lifted, Birch said, “Absolutely! We want to keep growing the Big South Kitchen brand to future locations down the road. Even if we were to open a brick and mortar location, we plan to keep the Arden operation going.”
“For now, Big South Kitchen is the best-kept barbecue secret in Asheville,” Birch said. “I don’t expect that to continue since every item is made from scratch the old fashioned way using fresh ingredients. First-time guests are always pleased with the quality of the food.”
With severe restrictions being placed on dine-in restaurants, a little out-of-the-box thinking was necessary for survival. But the pandemic still influenced the way the business was conducted.
“We take great pride in our contactless delivery and pick-up. Delivery is currently handled through Doordash. We use secure packaging for all of our food products and place them in a sealed delivery bag with a ‘Secured for Product Safety’ sticker on each one,” Birch added. “We want our guests to know that we were the only ones to handle their meal. In addition, all of our staff wear masks and gloves at all times on the job. We also take great pride in keeping our employees and guests safe during these trying times.”
In keeping with their cloud-kitchen concept, Big South Kitchen’s complete menu is posted at BigSouthKitchen.com. The kitchen is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday to Friday.
More Than One Chef in the Ghost Kitchen
While the Big South Kitchen focuses on Southern barbecue, being affiliated with Charlie Hodge’s Sovereign Remedies causes Good Asheville Food to take a more eclectic approach.
With eclectic being defined as “deriving ideas, style or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources,” the adjective defines GAF’s menu.
Good Asheville Foods is a chef collaborative cloud kitchen designed to streamline “honest, conscious, made-from-scratch food” the the doorstep.
Conscious in this case means being aware of where you source the ingredients. Chefs focus on supporting local farms and partnering with local vendors and chefs. Simply put, GAF’s mission is about helping the community by buying locally and being sustainable.
One look at the menu confirms the philosophy: Thai, Philippine, Indian, Japanese, Korean, vegan and, of course, the tried-and-true American favorite hamburger, albeit with a definite twist, being spiced with lusty monk mustard and green garlic aioli and served with a side of carrot catsup.
Good Asheville Foods brings the culinary talents of Chef Sunil Patel and Chef Bert Sheffield to the fore. Patel, the founder of the Patchwork Alliance and Patchwork Farms Indian Supper Pop Series, has created a loyal following for his Indian dishes, but he often falls back on his experience gained while living in Japan to prepare his specialty Japanese dishes from scratch.
Sheffield was born into a family of food lovers and cooks in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He followed in his father’s footsteps as a youth, spending many long days and nights in the kitchen learning the family catering business.
From there, he moved to Atlanta where he worked, and learned, in several notable establishments before moving onto coastal South Carolina. While there, Sheffield said he experimented with the Southern coastal approach to preparing fresh seafood. Next, he moved to Western North Carolina and the kitchens of Sovereign Remedies and Good Asheville Foods.
The varied culinary experiences of these two chefs have given birth to the eclectic menu.
The idea for Good Asheville Foods predated the pandemic and the havoc that has visited upon the restaurant industry.
“We launched in the middle of last month and we fully expect the business to continue when times return to normalcy,” said Brian Konutko, a member of the project’s marketing organization. “We had a facility called Make Space that we opened three years ago as a commissary kitchen for Sovereign Remedies, catering and future projects like this. The market timing and the availability of the kitchen made it feel right to embrace and celebrate local food during these times more than ever.”
For more information and a menu, visit Good Asheville Foods at Goodashevillefood.com.
The company does not offer curbside pickup, but does offer delivery through Takeout Central and Kickback AVL. Orders may be placed online from 5-10 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday.