At the beginning of April, David Chang’s hit fried chicken chain, Fuku, was in six states and Washington, D.C, with a half dozen standalone spots spread between NY, Boston, and LA, and multiple outposts in large venues across the country. Oregon is not one of those states, and there had been no announcements of Fuku opening in Portland. So when numerous locations appeared on practically every major delivery app seemingly overnight, and when orders of soggy chicken fingers and waffle fries started arriving in legit-looking Fuku takeout boxes, Portlanders were confused.
“Did I miss something or when did we get a Fuku?” twitter user @NNanpei wrote on Friday, April 10. Reddit posts and tweets began to circulate, questioning the lack of official announcement, the varied addresses across delivery sites, and the missing Portland locations listed on Fuku’s national page. The closest anyone could come to official confirmation that the delivery-based Fuku was legit was in the form of a coy comment from Fuku’s official Instagram account: When an Instagram user asked if the Portland location advertised on Postmates was actually associated with the national brand, Fuku’s account commented with a wink emoji, a sunglasses emoji, and a fried chicken emoji.
But as it turns out, they’re the real deal. The Portland-area Fukus are virtual restaurants associated with Reef Kitchens, and the two companies are operating locally on a three-month contract, testing out a delivery-centric model in cities like Portland, Brooklyn (Fuku’s home base), and Miami (Reef’s home base). Like many other Reef properties nationwide, the “locations” are actually ghost kitchens operating in trailers in parking lots and food pods.
Virtual restaurants, also known as ghost kitchens or cloud kitchens, are designed to sell food exclusively for delivery apps, generally with no public-facing storefront. Reef Kitchens is part of Reef Technology — recently rebranded from ParkJockey and valued at a billion dollars, it owns some 5,000 parking facilities in North America, and ghost kitchens are one of its latest plays to monetize them. Reef claims to be “reinventing kitchens” with its “full on-site kitchens,” “optimized digital platform,” and “delivery service staging,” all buzzwords to describe what appear to be trailers in parking lots that are home to four or five different “restaurants” at a time, some of which are brands licensed from partners looking to quickly expand their footprint — including, at one point, Rachael Ray.
For those unfamiliar, Reef recently made headlines when food coming from one of its virtual kitchens, Happy Khao Thai, was falsely listed as coming from the celebrated San Francisco restaurant, Kin Khao, on multiple delivery apps, including Grubhub and DoorDash. The apps called the swap a “clerical error,” a result, in part, from listing restaurants without their permission.
Fuku CEO Alex Munoz-Suarez says the companies decided to start their partnership in Portland because it’s a food cart town. “Portland is very accepting, in my mind,” Munoz-Suarez says. “But what obviously sold it was, this city is open to food trucks.” The companies attempted to “soft launch” in Portland by opening without making an announcement, according to Munoz-Suarez and Reef spokesperson Padden Murphy. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company wasn’t able to send out Fuku employees to do in-person training; instead, local Reef employees are working via Zoom trainings and menu cards, assembling dishes using products coming out of the main Fuku commissary in New York. They hoped the lack of buzz would give their employees an opportunity to work out the kinks.
One of those is that not all the Fuku locations in Portland are where they say they are, according to Cartlandia owner Roger Goldingay. Goldingay says people from Reef Technology reached out about renting property at Cartlandia weeks ago. After sending the Reef representative a lease agreement, the people from Reef stopped responding to Goldingay’s emails. Last week, however, delivery drivers started arriving looking for Fuku’s location — one that does not exist on his property. “They have no right to use our address, they have not signed a lease with us,” he says. A Reef spokesperson attributed this to “confusion” between Goldingay and Reef proper; a longer statement is coming soon.
The local Fuku Portland presence is currently delivery-only, but Fuku and Reef say the company could potentially test out other models — “there’s a ton of opportunity for innovation in Portland,” Murphy says. “We believe that this is what the future looks like.”
• Fuku (Momofuku) [Official]
• Fuku (Reef) [DoorDash]
• Fuku (Reef) [Postmates]
• Fuku (Reef) [Grubhub]
• ‘We Don’t Even Do Takeout’: Why, Then, Is This Restaurant on Seamless? [E]
• Did Your Food Delivery Come From a Rented Trailer? [ESF]
Update April 13, 2020, at 5 p.m.
This story has been updated to include Cabel Sasser’s account of ordering Fuku.
Update April 14, 2020, at 4:13 p.m.
This story has been updated to include comments from Fuku CEO Alex Munoz-Suarez and Reef spokesperson Padden Murphy.
Disclosure: David Chang is producing shows for Hulu in partnership with Vox Media Studios, part of Eater’s parent company, Vox Media. No Eater staff member is involved in the production of those shows, and this does not impact coverage on Eater.