Eric Beribdei and his daughter Ellie operate the Lincoln Kitchen facility in Valparaiso. Staff photo by John J. Watkins
Eric Beribdei and his daughter Ellie operate the Lincoln Kitchen facility in Valparaiso. Staff photo by John J. Watkins
VALPARAISO — You can't come and dine in at some of Valparaiso's newest restaurants.

There are no seats, no wait staff and no drive-thru.

Carryout is an option, but most of the business is done by delivery, which has taken off in popularity due to many apps and the coronavirus pandemic.

Owner Eric Berindei, who previously owned the Delivery.com food delivery service in Valparaiso, launched The Lincoln Kitchen business at 704 Silhavy Road. It's boosted the number of delivery options in Valparaiso, billing itself as a "digital food court." He's potentially looking at opening more Northwest Indiana locations, possibly in Crown Point and St. John.

"Ghost kitchens have gotten big," he said, "Some restaurants are solely dependent DoorDash and Uber Eats. Others are testing it out to see if people like it. I just went to a conference in Dallas in June and they were talking about how ghost kitchens were a newer segment of the restaurant business and how there are a lot of different twists, a lot of different options as people seek the perfect model."

The 7,000-square-foot Lincoln Kitchen is home to Toothache Bakery, Big D’s Eats, Big D’s Loaded Mac, Moe's Meditterean, Wao Bao, Phat Wraps, Dickey's BBQ, Las Mamacitas, Leaf and Green Balance.

One can get everything from brisket tacos to bao buns.

"We have some good options and good variety," Berindei said. "We're adding some more choices. Families, doctor's offices, schools and offices can come in and pick up meals."

Big D's Eats, for instance, offers Nashville hot chicken, Philly cheesesteaks and breakfast fare. Big D's Loaded Mac specializes in mac and cheese, topped with meats like brisket, Buffalo chicken and Nashville hot chicken.

"We try to bring things that aren't available or hard to get in the Region," owner Dale Porch said. "You have to go to Chicago for Nashville hot chicken. You have to go to Hammond for a good Philly."

Big D's has a food truck that's appeared at dozens of festivals this year. But Lincoln Kitchen has allowed it to also handle catering options of any size, no minimum or maximum with at least 24 hours advance notice.

Lincoln Kitchen took over the former Gratz Piano space that was most recently a Habitat for Humanity Resale Shop. It's a place where restaurants rent commercial kitchens either to use for delivery-based businesses or where startup restaurants and food trucks can test the market and get off the ground.

"It's a low-cost alternative to grow a restaurant or get to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant," he said. "This is a growing trend. You see them in New York, Chicago and L.A. but it's just starting to open in smaller towns. It's a new concept having a bunch of different restaurants to order from. Some people don't understand it."

Lincoln Kitchen employs about half a dozen delivery drivers who deliver orders phoned in or made through its website. Most of the restaurants that rent space there also deliver through DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats.

"COVID really ignited the use of the delivery apps," he said. "People who never used DoorDash started using it. They probably still use it a few times a month. It's not on the same growth trajectory as it was but it's still growing. It's changing how people dine in a big way."

Not all the kitchens are open every day. But people can log on online to see what restaurants are open and what food they can order.

"The Lincoln Kitchen is a new concept to NWI and Las Mamacitas Food Truck is excited about being a part of it," Las Mamacitas food truck owner Monica Jimenez said. "It is a commissary and a space where local food vendors can operate a kitchen and sell to customers. People can preorder and pick up or order from third-party services such as Grubhub and Uber Eats, etc. The fun part is people don’t have to order from just one kitchen. There are many options including sweets and more."

It's a good opportunity for local restaurants to reach more customers, Jimenez said.

"I was a part of the kitchen from the beginning of the buildout and I’m excited to see the growth," she said. "Las Mamacitas is operational in the kitchen on Tuesdays from 11 a.m. until sold out and we will be adding hours in the near future."
"More and more restaurants in the brick-and-mortar space are venturing into the ghost or dark kitchen world," Berindei said. "None of these are here but Chick-fil-A, Cracker Barrel, Maggiano's and Chili's are some of the national chains opening a lot of ghost kitchen locations. It's an interesting mix."

One remaining 250-square-foot kitchen space remains available for lease.

Lincoln Kitchen is open from 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. for breakfast and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. for lunch and dinner daily.
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