The 'ghost restaurant' trend has arrived in Auckland, but don't expect to be served by ghouls in fitted sheets, the format sees eateries operate in the online realm rather than offering a physical sit-down space for diners. One of the first establishments to adopt the ghost movement in Auckland is a Nashville-style hot chicken and cauliflower eatery.
Operating from the kitchen of Ponsonby Road's Ha! Poke, Hot Lips is currently serving customers exclusively through food delivery service Uber Eats. The business was created by brothers Conor and Tyler Kerlin, who are responsible for bringing Mexicali Fresh and Burger Wisconsin to New Zealand and run a string of family-operated Mexican restaurants in the United States.
Speaking with NZ Herald, the brothers started the online-only eatery after noticing similar things happening stateside. "We had been following some trends in the States with the virtual kitchens, and, owning around 40 restaurants already we know that the cost of leases is just going up and up and up."
The Kerlin-backed, Mike Shand-run Ha! Poke is located in the former home of cake company Rocket Kitchen at 234A Ponsonby Rd — a spacious outlet which serves as the ideal spot to test Hot Lips. The engine room for Ha! Poke is found in a second area behind the store counter, which thankfully prevents the intermingling of raw seafood and hot chicken.
Ordering from Hot Lips (via Uber Eats), users have the choice of Nashville-style hot chicken tenders and fried cauliflower in sandwich form or as part of different meal packages including fries, white pipe bread, slaw and pickles. The spice level can be customised from a gentle nudge to super hot, but those concerned about tackling extreme chilli in public needn't worry — it can all be delivered straight to the front door.