World Trade Center landlord Silverstein Properties turns to ghost kitchen Zuul in bid to return workers

“Food is a major concern,” Vardi said. “People are uncomfortable going between the office and

“Food is a major concern,” Vardi said. “People are uncomfortable going between the office and outside, and ordering food still requires going down to pick it up.”

The best way to resolve those concerns is by delivering food directly to tenants’ offices, he said. But that raises issues of security and health screenings of couriers entering the building, especially within the World Trade Center.
 
That has opened an opportunity for Zuul, which operates a commercial kitchen in SoHo where established city brands such as Naya Express, Sarge’s Deli and Stone Bridge Pizza prepare smaller versions of their menus for takeout only. The food is produced from a single commercial kitchen, disconnected from any dining room, typically referred to as a ghost kitchen or cloud kitchen.

Workers can order lunch from those restaurants using a custom app for tenants. Orders must be in by 10:30 a.m. to arrive by lunch hour.

Zuul said it will rely on a small group of couriers who have been preapproved by Silverstein to ride the buildings’ freight elevators. Meals are delivered all at once to each separate office, where they can be distributed by the tenant company. The program will be offered to workers at World Trade Center properties as well as Silverstein’s other office holdings, such as 120 Broadway, Vardi said.

Pre-pandemic, Vardi said, the areas outside of office buildings included a “tsunami” of delivery couriers waiting for someone to come grab their order.

There are no such tidal waves now, at any building, as offices throughout the city are still sitting mostly unoccupied.

Safe food delivery has become part of the pitch from landlords to change that. The program is included in Silverstein promotional materials, which also outline the company’s air-filtration systems and social-distancing plan.   

RXR Realty, a major city office landlord whose holdings include 75 Rockefeller Plaza, coordinates food orders to the building through its own RXWell app, which was developed with Microsoft. The app features options such as Chopt and Sweetgreen. Deliveries are processed by the building’s management and placed on stands in the lobby for contactless pickup, as described by an RXR spokesman.  

Covid-19 guidance from the Real Estate Board of New York recommends that landlords develop a system for handling deliveries that limits lobby access. The board also recommends that corporate cafeterias remain closed.

That’s why Zuul, which has raised $9 million this year from investors, has built a platform that landlords can tap into and integrate within tenant apps, the same as Silverstein. CEO Corey Manicone said Zuul is in discussions with several other city property managers to use its food-delivery app.

Zuul does not charge the property owners for the technology, instead recouping its costs through a fee on the sales.

“Landlords have two key objectives in navigating this environment: reduce lobby foot traffic and limit people in the elevators,” Manicone said.

Partnerships with landlords could offer a new line of business to struggling restaurants. Zuul collects a 10% fee from restaurants on meal sales, as well as a varying membership fee for access to its kitchen space. Manicone said the company is providing restaurants with a less expensive way to expand their operations, especially while they have limited dining capacity.

“On-demand delivery—one person bringing food from one restaurant to one customer—just has not proven to create many winners,” he said.

Establishments that rely on the lunch crowd could struggle if employees decide to stick to their office rather than venture out.

“Restaurants and a lot of other small businesses really need office workers to come back for their survival,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance.

The partnership is promising in concept, he added, but office managers must work to engage as many local businesses as possible as workers return, particularly if they are facilitating deliveries directly to offices.

Vardi said workers returning to Silverstein’s building still have the option to order from restaurants outside the program. The deal just provides another option.

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