Does the restaurant you ordered from actually exist? Inside the virtual, delivery-only spots on Uber Eats

Restaurants are testing out new concepts within their own kitchens to appeal to the delivery customer.

Don't be alarmed, but the restaurant you just ordered delivery from might not actually exist. Not in the physical realm, at least. That's because D-FW is now home to dozens of delivery-only concepts that, while very real on your Uber Eats app, have no brick and mortar locations of their own.

Since Uber Eats first began experimenting with virtual restaurants in 2017, more than 2,500 such businesses have launched on the app around the world. About 1,000 of those reside in the United States, with high concentrations in cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

According to Travis Considine, communications manager for Uber Texas, the company leverages its technology and data insights to identify selection gaps in the market. Basically, they find an intersection where supply is lagging behind demand.


"We work with our restaurant partners to fill those gaps by helping them spin up new, delivery-only menus out of their existing kitchens," he says.

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Navin Hariprasad prepares some vegan dishes served by Lucky Cat Vegan, exclusive to Uber Eats, located inside Spice in the City in Dallas.(Jason Janik / Special Contributor)

One of those partners is Navin Hariprasad, the owner of Spice in the City, the Indian Tex-Mex fusion restaurant downtown, and the recently-opened Hot off the Press, a sandwich shop at Main Street Garden. He says that last year, Uber called him about launching a virtual concept, and told him that popular searches in the area included words like "vegan," "vegetarian" and "healthy."

As a trained dietitian and recent convert to vegetarianism, Hariprasad jumped at the opportunity. Within two weeks, he'd created a menu, dubbed his new restaurant Lucky Cat Vegan, and opened for business in January.

"We prepare all of our food at Spice in the City," Hariprasad says. "Luckily, we are already vegetarian/vegan conscious and our employees are trained on cultural sensitivity. We use a vegan-only fryer and separate skillets for our vegan options to avoid cross contamination."

Spicy orange chili cauliflower with basmati rice is served by Lucky Cat Vegan, exclusive to Uber Eats, located inside Spice in the City in Dallas.(Jason Janik / Special Contributor)

Other examples include Dugg Burger in Casa Linda. The 4-year-old restaurant joined the virtual fray last year with Chicken Sandwich Project, which delivers a simple menu of grilled and fried chicken sandwiches, milkshakes, and one salad for good measure. They'll even bring you a Twinkie.

Wava Halal Grill on Greenville Avenue has multiple virtual concepts operating out of its kitchen, including the self-explanatory Burger World, Smoothie World and Wava Mediterranean Eats. Sakhuu Thai Cuisine in East Dallas expanded their footprint by launching Ms. Bamboo Chinese Cuisine. And Ai Sushi Sake Grill on Cedar Springs is now delivering Korean food via their virtual restaurant, the Kimchii. For owner Steve Chang, it was a natural jump.

"The food is prepared and handled by the same staff," Chang. says "They are trained in multiple cuisines and familiar with Asian cooking. The cornerstone of our Korean food is our family recipes handed down and adapted with each individual until we have what's now on the menu at the Kimchii."

Chang mentions that, so far, reception has been positive. The Kimchii customers include regulars who were already familiar with Ai Sushi and newcomers who discovered the sibling restaurant online. "We're one of the few restaurants that serve delicious Korean food in the center of Dallas vs. the typical areas around Royal Lane, Carrollton and Plano," he says.

That ability to fill a gap in the market is also fueling the success of Hariprasad's virtual vegan restaurant. "There is a very high demand for vegan options based on the fact that there is a lack of variety, and people are wanting to eat more plant-based foods," he says. He notes that even fast food restaurants are beginning to pick up on this trend, offering options for vegans and vegetarians that extend beyond just salads and starches.

At Lucky Cat Vegan, that means burgers and meatballs made with plant-based "meat" from Impossible Foods and a riff on buffalo chicken made from cauliflower.


"I crave a burger, meatballs and fried chicken, so to create similar options like that with health still in mind, as a dietitian, is a winner," he says.

Various dishes served by Lucky Cat Vegan, exclusive to Uber Eats, located inside Spice in the City in Dallas.(Jason Janik / Special Contributor)

Throw in the lower operating costs associated with running a virtual restaurant, and it's easy to see why the concept has proven popular.


"Normally, when a restaurant wants to open up a new revenue stream, they need to invest in a new brick and mortar location," Considine says, noting that doing so requires significant time, capital and risk. With virtual restaurants, chefs and owners can experiment with new concepts using the kitchen and staff they already have.

Hariprasad agrees. "Online restaurants are sustainable because you can create a new concept and revenue stream without the additional overhead of a brick and mortar," he says. He also mentions that being visible on delivery platforms is a good marketing opportunity for his businesses.

It seems to be working, even resulting in foot traffic from customers searching for his non-existent restaurant. Hariprasad says that so many people showed up at Spice in the City looking for Lucky Cat, that he eventually began allowing guests to place to-go and dine-in orders for the latter.


"This has not only provided a great atmosphere for vegans and vegetarians to dine in, but it has really allowed us to cross promote our multiple concepts," he says.

Pablano burger with sweet potato fries served by Lucky Cat Vegan, exclusive to Uber Eats, located inside Spice in the City in Dallas.(Jason Janik / Special Contributor)