Next time you order mediocre drunken noodles from that generic-sounding restaurant that pops up first when you type “Thai” into the Seamless search bar, you should know that you may receive mediocre drunken noodles from a different generic-sounding Thai restaurant altogether—and that the one you ordered from may not exist at all.
Take a moment to compose yourself if you need it. The news comes from NBC New York, which investigated what it calls “ghost” kitchens for a segment today. The highlight of their piece involves a nonexistent called Really Chinese. The address listed on its Seamless page corresponds with a townhouse, and the food in fact came from a nearby eatery called Abby Chinese. NBC surmises that the shell restaurant exists because Abby Chinese has racked up health violations including the possible presence of rats. Because the name Really Chinese is not registered with the health department at all, it has comparably clean rep.
According to Abby Chinese’s manager, it’s more about having multiple irons in the food-on-demand fire:
He said it is common knowledge that restaurants on Seamless and GrubHub advertise under multiple unregistered names with multiple phone lines for the same kitchen.
The practice allows a restaurant to increase the chances a consumer on Seamless or GrubHub will click on one of its menus.
“When we have one line, it’s hard to compete,” said Chen. “We know how many lines some of the other restaurants have. It’s an open secret.”
The city consumer affairs commissioner told NBC that lack of oversight on Seamless means “Some people might be illegally operating from their apartment,” sending you food whipped up in their personal kitchens. Considering how difficult it can be to use a cramped New York City kitchen to feed just one household, that seems a little farfetched.
Update (6:20 p.m.): Both Really Chinese and Abby Chinese have been removed from Seamless, and the company is partnering with the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs to address the issue, a Grubhub/Seamless spokesperson said via email.