A new virtual restaurant called Sam’s Crispy Chicken will start delivering fried chicken sandwiches in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York on Friday. It’s the latest from C3, a subsidiary of hospitality company sbe, which has nearly 200 restaurants and bars around the world including Umami Burger and Katsuya.
The sandwiches will be made in sbe kitchens and sold exclusively online and delivered through every major delivery app.
“Instead of farm-to-table, it’s phone-to-table,” sbe Chief Executive Sam Nazarian said.
Sam’s Crispy Chicken was built around the popularity of the existing sandwich of the same name at Umami Burger, which includes fried chicken, slaw and pickles on a vegan brioche bun.
“It’s always our top third or fourth in sales,” said Martin Heierling, sbe chief culinary officer. “With the market shifting toward chicken sandwiches in the last six months, we already knew what people would like, so we created a brand around that.”
The Sam’s Crispy Chicken sandwiches will be made using a koji yeast marinade. In addition to the traditional sandwich, there’s a version with Buffalo sauce, a Nashville hot chicken sandwich and a fried chicken sandwich served on two waffles instead of a bun.
You’ll also be able to order pieces of fried chicken, salads and sandwiches made with a plant-based chicken substitute called Quorn chik’n.
Sbe is far from the first to launch a delivery-only restaurant, known as a virtual brand. As restaurateurs struggle to open and maintain businesses, some are turning to virtual kitchens, which don’t require a large service staff on the payroll to operate.
In late 2018, Eric Greenspan, formerly of the now-closed Foundry and Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese on Melrose Avenue, opened Bubu’s Finest Birds and Burgers, a delivery-only business serving burgers and fried chicken sandwiches. It’s part of a larger virtual food court that includes several of Greenspan’s virtual brands, such as Brekkie Breakfast Burritos and 2 on a Roll egg sandwiches.
But it’s a relatively nascent business, with chefs and companies still experimenting to find their footing. Majordomo chef David Chang opened and closed Maple and Ando, two delivery-only restaurants (Ando turned into a fast-casual restaurant before closing) in the last five years.
Nazarian said virtual kitchens are “a huge opportunity for traditional restaurateurs to maximize and be creative and come up with a new idea without having to build a whole new restaurant.”
He added, “If you don’t have resources but have a great new idea, you don’t have to spend time working with landlords or long-term leases.”
C3 also has plans to capitalize on the popularity of the spicy tuna on crispy rice dish at its Katsuya restaurants. It soon will launch Krispy Rice, a virtual brand that exclusively sells fish and crispy rice.
And if the virtual brands do well, Nazarian said there’s a possibility they may turn into traditional bricks-and-mortar restaurants.