Ghost kitchen: Local food service businesses partner to stay open, save money

Bueno Burrito owner Nathan Stringer (right) is opening his Thomasville restaurant's kitchen to other food businesses, such as Perfect Portions healthy meal prep owner Bethany Martin (left) and two food trucks. It allows all involved to pool resources and save money during this time of rising commercial rents and food costs. Martin will set up her food prep area on the left side of the kitchen, which Stringer has cleared for her.

THOMASVILLE — A few weeks ago Bethany Martin was preparing to close down her healthy food prep business Perfect Portions, which she has owned since 2018 when she bought the Thomasville business and moved it to Asheboro.

At the same time, Bueno Burrito owner Nathan Stringer, who opened his restaurant in Perfect Portions' former location at 703 Lexington Ave. in June 2022, was wondering if he could keep the doors open with his rent increasing and the cost of food continuing to rise.

The two found together a way to stay open and cut costs. Perfect Portions is moving home again and will share Bueno Burrito's kitchen with its own prep area. Stringer has also made deals with two area food truck owners — Fireball Wood Fired Pizza and Southern Noodle — to buy time in his commercial kitchen for food prep.

It's creating a ghost kitchen concept in Thomasville, and likely the first of its kind partnership in Davidson County said Stringer. Martin and the other two food trucks list 703 Lexington Ave., as their base, but it's not their storefront. Customers don't come there to buy food. However, when they look up those food businesses online, it brings them to Bueno Burrito.

"It helps out and will get walk-ins or calls with people wanting to book the food trucks," Stringer said. "I book it for them and they learn about what I have to offer."

The main reason is cost sharing for each business involved.

"Right now, the cost to do business is ridiculous," Stringer continued. "Everything is going up in price."

That's why partnering and sharing kitchen space, equipment, rent and more is a "win-win" situation, said Martin.

Martin moved Perfect Portions from Thomasville to Asheboro in 2021. Before that, Stringer was walking by her former Thomasville location looking for a building to do food prep for his food truck called Snickety Snacks. The two struck up a conversation with Martin telling him she was vacating 703 Lexington Ave. to move Perfect Portions to Randolph County. Stringer worked with Perfect Portions for a while in Randolph County while running Snickety Snacks. When he got the idea to open Bueno Burrito, he moved into Perfect Portions' former Thomasville location.

In Randolph County, Martin ran into building issues at her first location in downtown Asheboro and had to vacate to a temporary location while it was fixed. Things were OK until the owner of the temporary location needed his building back building for another use.

"There were few kitchen spaces available and the rent prices are ridiculous now .. like $4,000 to $5,000 a month," Martin said. "I texted Nathan because I was preparing to shut down and asked him if he wanted to buy some of my kitchen equipment. He told me he wasn't sure he was going to be able to stay open. He was doing well with more business coming in, but with rising costs of food and rent, he didn't know if he could make it. I texted back, 'too bad we couldn't have shared a space, then maybe neither of us would have to close.'"

Bam! That's when Stringer got an idea. They could share kitchen space.

He made the offer and Martin accepted. With a few hours of rearranging his Thomasville kitchen space, Martin is set to move in her equipment in the left side and start taking orders for her premade macro-friendly healthy meals this week. The menus went live on the website at www. on Monday, Jan. 23. Customers place and pay for their orders by 10 pm. on Fridays.

Martin and her staff will come in on the following Monday, when Bueno Burrito is closed, cook and package the meals and then deliver them to pick-up locations in Asheboro and Archdale. Bueno Burrito will be a pick-up location for Davidson County customers, and she is looking for a pick-up location in High Point.

"We're able to split some of our costs," Stringer said.

"The cost of food has risen so much," Martin added. "A case of eggs was $7 a few months ago and now it's $24. Labor costs are going up, too... You will pay extra when you get someone who is good and dependable so you can keep them. But you have to pay more to get them to apply and to hang on to them."

Martin said another way this arrangement helps each business is they can buy house-made items from one another for use in their meals. For example, she said she could buy some of Stringer's house-made sauces or salsa to use on her fresh, healthy meals and give her customers something they had not had before and Stringer more business.

Bueno Burrito will continue to be open for businesses from 7-3 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Perfect Portions will prep and cook on Mondays. The food trucks use the kitchen at other times when needed.

"It's providing a way for all of us to come to the customers instead of the customers coming to us," Stringer said.

Bueno Burrito also hosts a 4 Season Curbside Market four Ties a year. Small business vendors selling crafts or food set up to showcase and sale their items. The next market will be April 8.

Stringer said a few years ago, food service businesses coming together to share space would not have been considered. Competition and proprietary secrets that can be discovered by looking around someone else's kitchen were too big a risk to allow another business in your space. Now, the cost of being in business and the need to pool resources to save money is overriding those fears.

This article originally appeared on The Dispatch: Davidson County food businesses partner to stay open, save money