Andrew Martino is the Founder of Ghost Truck Kitchen, a digital food truck concept. GTK is the first and only of its kind with a mission to make food takeout a greater experience.
Andrew has nearly 20 years of experience in the food and hospitality industry, working at the managerial and executive levels. A virtuoso in the ghost kitchen space since 2018, Andrew gives expert advice on podcasts and panels. Andrew has also been featured in publications such as The Hudson Kitchen and Food Service Equipment and Supplies.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- What is Ghost Truck Kitchen and what makes the dining experience unique?
- How the pandemic impacted the restaurant’s operations
- Andrew’s inspiration for entering the food and hospitality industry
- How Ghost Truck Kitchen handles having a diverse food menu
- What challenges did the new concept restaurant present?
- Andrew’s hope for the future of the ghost kitchen industry
In this episode…
Approximately 60 percent of Americans order takeout food — if you’re among them, you’ve probably found yourself awkwardly awaiting your meal at the bar or the takeout area.
Thanks to the ghost kitchen concept, the brainchild of restaurateur Andrew Martino, those days could be over for all hungry Americans. How? The answer is simple: the digital food truck lot.
In this episode of the SpotOn Series, Founder Andrew Martino of Ghost Truck Kitchen joins host Chad Franzen to discuss the ghost kitchen space. Together, the two talk about the concept of the digital food truck lot, the challenges that accompany offering a diverse menu, and Andrew’s wish for the future of the ghost truck industry.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
- Andrew Martino on LinkedIn
- Ghost Truck Kitchen
- Ghost Truck Kitchen on: Instagram and LinkedIn
- Strong Roots
- Chad Franzen on LinkedIn
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Welcome to the Top Business Leaders Show. Powered by Rise25 Media. We feature top founders, executives and business leaders from all over the world.
Chad Franzen 0:20
Chad Franzen here, co-host for this show where we feature top restaurant tours, investors and business leaders. This is part of our SpotOn Series. SpotOn has a best in class payment platform for retail and they have a flagship solution called SpotOn Restaurant, where they combined marketing, software, and payments all in one. They’ve saved everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen and Subway to small mom and pop restaurants. To learn more, go to SpotOn.com This episode is brought to you by Rise25. We help b2b businesses to get ROI clients referrals and strategic partnerships through done for you podcast. If you have a b2b business and want to build great relationships with clients, referral partners and thought leaders in your space, there is no better way to do it than through podcasts and content marketing. To learn more, go to Rise25Media.com or email us at Support@Rise25Media.com. Andrew Martino is the Founder of Ghost Truck Kitchen. He has been operating restaurants at both managerial and executive levels for almost 20 years. He has been an expert in the ghost kitchen space since 2018. and has been featured on podcasts, panels, and publications. Andrew, thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?
Andrew Martino 1:22
Doing? Great. Thanks for having me.
Chad Franzen 1:24
Hey, so tell me about Ghost Truck Kitchen. It sounds like a very unique and great concept.
Andrew Martino 1:30
Yeah. So this was, you know, one of those things that starts off as a crazy idea, right? What are you doing? It was pre pandemic, of course. And the initial thought behind it was to emulate that experience of being at a food truck festival. The negatives in my mind where you’d have to wait in separate lines for every single vendor. If you were lucky enough to go with a group of friends, you could have one person in each line, but we wanted to do was basically create a digital ordering experience that mirrored being at a food truck festival and being able to great get multiple different types of cuisines all in one transaction are opening hashtag was GTK saves relationships. So anybody that’s ever fought with a loved one or family member about where they’re going to order from, we aim to solve that problem.
Chad Franzen 2:17
So your website says I think it says something like, we’re not a ghost kitchen. And we’re not a food truck. Can you explain that?
Andrew Martino 2:24
Sure, sure. So, you know, of course, when we, when we created the name, ghost kitchens weren’t a thing yet. People hadn’t hit, they hadn’t hit the mainstream. So what we did was, again, on the food truck side was we created these concepts, which we refer to as ghost trucks. The line I like to use is we have brick and mortar bones and ghost kitchen blood. So you know, we think we’re a perfect hybrid of, you know, yesterday’s brick and mortar space with the future of e-commerce essentially, for restaurants. So we married those two concepts together. We’re not a food truck. We’re not a ghost kitchen. We’re a hybrid approach and everything we do, and we think we have the best of both worlds.
Chad Franzen 3:06
So from a customer standpoint, how does it work if they place an order online, and then the food is delivered to them?
Andrew Martino 3:11
Yeah, so we, we have a pretty robust pickup business as well. So we definitely like to be a convenient takeout option for all our locals and neighborhood folks. But again, yeah, people can can go online, or they can order in house from our kiosk, they can order across any of our 12 current ghost truck concepts, all on one ticket, everything is prepared and ready at the exact same time, one bag one order, and everyone’s happy.
Chad Franzen 3:38
So you have brick and mortar locations, correct?
Andrew Martino 3:40
Yes, we have physical brick and mortar locations, we basically again took you know what would be a traditional, fast casual size space of about 1000 to 1500 square feet. And then instead of having 20% kitchen and 80%, unused dining room, we simply flipped that and now we have about 80% kitchen and then 20% of our space is dedicated for both delivery drivers and pickup customers.
Chad Franzen 4:04
So what did the early days kind of look like? You know, when you when you first got started? What did that look like in terms of your location or your delivery system or whatever?
Andrew Martino 4:13
Oh, yeah, I mean, there’s been tons of iterations. Of course, we’re a bootstrapped brand. I bootstrap this myself again, you know, there wasn’t a lot of people that wanted to invest in a virtual food truck lot back in in 2018.
to delivery at your door, and we make everything from scratch to order.
Chad Franzen 5:04
Did you? You know, pre pandemic, this was probably kind of like an extra out there concept now now you’re like a visionary? How did? How did COVID kind of affect your operations?
Andrew Martino 5:16
Yeah, I think the assumption was that we just killed it during COVID. And like, everything was wonderful and great, definitely wasn’t the reality. You know, we spent our first year really trying to build our office catering lunch business. And that went to zero, our walk in clientele went to zero. So we were fortunate in that we didn’t have to change how we operated, right? We already knew how to package food, we already knew what technology we needed to make things work. So we had some benefits in that way. But we also had a niche, or at least we thought we had a niche that no one else in the world cared about. And all of a sudden 100% of every operator in the world pivoted to takeout food. So we went from being a very unique place in the space to finding ourselves in a very competitive and crowded fields. But again, I think that really forced us to, to think continue to think forward and actually proved out our business model, because, you know, we still saw incredible growth, year over year.
Chad Franzen 6:16
At what point did you kind of realize that this kind of new thing had some traction like this? This is a good idea moving forward.
Andrew Martino 6:23
Yeah, I think it was just about this time last year, maybe a little bit later in summer. You know, we had a very strong start to the COVID error.
Once the vaccine was readily available last year travel picked up outdoor dining, indoor dining, I thought our sales were going to plateau, maybe even dip a little bit because everyone was able to go out and travel. We ended up being almost 100% year over year growth through our late spring and early summer months. And it was at that point that I was like, Okay, we really have something here. We need to try to grow this, to duplicate it. And fortunate enough recently to, you know, have found a great investment partner who was going to help us, you know, start to scale the brand in the appropriate way.
Chad Franzen 7:12
I mentioned in your intro that you have been in the restaurant business for a while, how did you break in?
Andrew Martino 7:18
So I was I was a broke college student. Not not unlike many college students. I was I was refereeing for intramural sports at $4.15 an hour, I believe was the was the was the rate. I happen to run into someone who knew my older sister. We went to high school together. He was working at a bar nearby. He’s like, Hey, do you want I’m not a big guy. It’s like, Hey, do you want to be a bouncer? It pays $6.75 an hour. So I was like, Sure this is great. I just absolutely fell in love with the hospitality industry. Right then in there. Within a year I was managing that bar, you know, at 19 years old, switched my major to Entrepreneurship and Hospitality Management, and have just been engrossed in all things hospitality ever since ever since that time.
Chad Franzen 8:04
Wow. So what? Can you give me an example of some other jobs you’ve had since that time?
Andrew Martino 8:09
Oh, yeah, sure. So I was the general manager of a live music venue and nightclub in New Jersey for about six years, until Hurricane Sandy came. Unfortunately, that was a pretty challenging time, it spurred me to move to Southern California, I was in San Diego, worked my way up there from a bar manager to a GM eventually became a director of operations for for a Restaurant Group. Around the same time, I met a great mentor who helped me launch my own hospitality consultant, business. And it was really that business that started to get me focused on food tech, and kind of what was next. This was a time when fast casual was the thing, right? Everybody was trying to become the next Chipotle, right? Oh, we’re the Indian Chipotle or the Italian Chipotle. And I just looked at that kind of as a flawed business model. I saw a lot of unused real estate, and a lot of bags being prepared for takeout and not a lot of strong logistics behind it. So ghost truck really started as a curiosity of like, what do we think the future looks like? What is the future of takeout look like? And to me, it meant being able to order whatever kind of food you wanted, having that food, be quality, have it be packaged well, and have it show up in a timely fashion. And people really care about it and focus on it. For so long. It had been an afterthought. I wanted to make it our main thought and we’ve done that and we still do that to this day. You know, we really, really care about how that food gets to you at your door.
Chad Franzen 9:37
Is it hard to have such a diverse menu in terms of having all all that food available and ready?
Andrew Martino 9:44
It took a lot of planning. I don’t think it’s particularly challenging now. I think a lot of it has to do again in your in your pre planning and organization of cross product utilization. Right. How do you use the same protein across multiple menus?
How do we tweak the same sauce to make it to use it in multiple places. So the easiest way for me to explain it is if you think about a typical Mexican restaurant, they might have 60 or 70 items. But it’s really a very small list of skews that those items are coming from. So I kind of took that approach to our diverse menu in which you’re hit with all these various and wonderful options. But in for our team, as long as our preparation is tight, and we’re able to cross utilize ingredients, it becomes a little simpler on the execution side.
Chad Franzen 10:31
So in terms of your operations, what’s kind of a key to your daily process in terms of making things you have kind of a diverse operation, what’s kind of the key to making things making sure things flow smoothly, and you stay kind of on brand?
Andrew Martino 10:45
Preparation, right? It’s all in the prep. So we’re very tight on on how we portion to ensure consistency, making sure the prep is done correctly every single day, so that the taste is same, and the sauces are the same. If your prep is incorrect, you’re gonna find yourself in the weeds pretty quickly. And that’s when things start to spiral out of control. So our food preparation is definitely paramount. And then just learning how to manage the technology. So timings right, right, we don’t want to make food too quickly before there’s a delivery driver. And we also don’t want a delivery driver sitting and waiting for 15 minutes. So the timing and logistics aspect is one of the real challenges of this business. And that’s very different from full service, which has its own challenges. So two completely different beasts. And I applaud people who have full service establishments and also do a heavy takeout business, because they really are very different skill sets and challenging to do both Well, at the same time.
Chad Franzen 11:41
What are you most proud of in terms of your Ghost Kitchen journey so far?
Andrew Martino 11:47
I would say Are you our feedback and our ratings, quote, unquote, I think if you look across the scope at a lot of the delivery, first virtual brands, a lot of other people that are somewhat in the same space, you see very inconsistent ratings, results, really poor delivery experiences, you know, it’s hard to get a two point something on GrubHub and UberEATS. But a lot of these VR companies managed to do it. So I think that’s what I’m most proud about is that we’re able to, you know, over three years, and multiple menus and multiple cuisines, you know, maintain a four to five star rating across every single platform. And again, I think that speaks to how we position our brand and how we see ourselves as a premium takeout option. So, you know, definitely the brand integrity is the thing that I’m most proud of.
Chad Franzen 12:34
Was there. Was there any like, as you were getting going, was there like any like, kind of big mistake or something that ended up serving as a learning experience that you guys could build on? Or? Yeah, not one that sticks up?
Andrew Martino 12:46
Sure. I don’t think any any one major mistake, you know, I had the benefit, of course, being an operator in the past and already making my mistakes on other people’s dime. That was, that was pretty fortunate. A lot of the learning curve was about the menu, right? How do we describe it? How do we place it? You know, there’s years and years of experience in data on a physical menu, right? Where do people’s eyes go? How do you make a box? How do you make a profitable engineering menu, but no one’s really cracked the code on what a digital menu engineering looks like? So we’ve done a lot of AP testing and moving items around and, and seeing what those key areas are. That’s been the most fun for me. I love the iterations and the learning process, learning how to turn waste into profit, right? What are we throwing out the end of the day? Okay, how do we use that ingredient more to create something that, again, is going to keep us profitable. So again, all mistakes are really just opportunities to learn, especially if you’re in a essentially a new category. So you know, we take all that, all that as an adventure.
Chad Franzen 13:50
What do you feel like this kind of category is going? Are there further innovations that you think could grow from this type of concept?
Andrew Martino 13:56
Yeah, I would really like to see more independent operators jump into the space. It was a little depressing, which fortunately, is the correct word for me to see. The ghost kitchen industry kind of get taken over by a lot of multinational conglomerates and have money thrown at it. This is really an opportunity for chefs and operators to be creative and do new cool and innovative stuff. And I feel like that hasn’t happened as much yet. I’m still hopeful. There’s a really a couple unique businesses out there that are trying to push the envelope. But I’d really like to see more independent restaurant tours in the space and not so much you know, like 500 new digital Wendy’s locations. I think there’s enough processed food to last everybody a lifetime and it’d be great to see some more real you know, chef owner operators get involved in the digital ecommerce restaurant space.
Chad Franzen 14:49
I have one more question for you. But first, how can people find out more about ghostwrote kitchen?
Andrew Martino 14:54
Sure, so they can check us out either on Instagram at Hello GTK, On LinkedIn, search me, Andrew Martino. Ghost Truck Kitchen also on LinkedIn, love to connect and catch up with people that are like minded in the space. So definitely socials is always the way to go. We have a three year anniversary coming up and I’m going to start doing a little bit more building in public and letting people behind the scenes to see our process as we grow.
Chad Franzen 15:22
Okay, very cool. Final question. If you’re hanging out at home one night and you want something to eat and you order from Ghost Truck Kitchen, do you have like a go to meal?
Andrew Martino 15:31
Well, I’ll, I’ll tell you my wife’s go to because she does get the same thing. She she gets the coconut curry with tofu. Nine times out of 10. For me, I’d say our teriyaki fried rice bowl is my favorite. And I’m always tacking on our wings. We do a smoked and grilled antibiotic free wing, best wings in the greater Jersey City area, if not the whole state. So there’s always wings happening pretty much on a weekly basis.
Chad Franzen 15:57
You guys have you guys have like an entire section of your menu dedicated to maybe like a vegan or a vegetarian? Is that correct?
Andrew Martino 16:04
Chad Franzen 16:04
How’s that going?
Andrew Martino 16:05
It’s great. That picks up honestly week over week as the vegan community is pretty tight. So as word spreads, we find ourselves getting more and more plant based orders. We also have a CPG partnership with a brand called Strong Roots. They provide us some great plant based products, cauliflower, hashbrowns, purple beet and black bean patties. We utilize tofu in a lot of different interesting ways. So big on on providing again, something for everybody. And not just afterthoughts.
Chad Franzen 16:36
Sure, sure. Very nice. Hey, Andrew, it’s been great to talk to you. I really appreciate your time today.
Andrew Martino 16:40
Absolutely. Thank you so much.
Chad Franzen 16:42
So long, everybody.
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