‘Ghost kitchens’ concern delivery drivers, customers

CHICAGO — Online food deliveries have exploded during the pandemic. But when you make your order, do you really know who’s cooking your food?

WGN Investigates uncovered a case where a delivery driver said he picked up meals that were prepared in the kitchen of a suburban apartment.

WGN Investigates is identifying the driver only by his first name; Kurt.

“I was thinking this can’t be legal,” he said.

Kurt informed his customers and the Cook County Department of Public Health. The kitchen was ordered to close.

“I was worried someone was going to get sick from the food,” he said.

City and county officials said they have not been flooded with complaints about unlicensed meal prep sites, or so-called illegal “ghost kitchens.” But the law is clear. The preparation of food items for sale is not permitted in a private residence.

In Kurt’s case, he picked up the meals from an apartment complex in unincorporated Cook County, near Des Plaines. The seller called itself “Blackbird” online, though it was not affiliated with the Michelin-starred restaurant with the same name, led by Chef Paul Kahan. (That eatery is now closed.)

A Cook County spokesman declined to comment.

It is not believed the meal prep site near Des Plaines is still doing business.

The owner told the county in an email, obtained by WGN Investigates, that he would stop selling food and remove his menu from Uber Eats.

In an email, an Uber Eats spokesman said the company requires all restaurants – even ghost kitchens – to comply with local health, safety and licensing guidelines.