Duluth sees its first ‘virtual restaurant’ with Bowls to Go

Restaurant developer Rick Lampton shows off the 310 Pub kitchen in Duluth where Bowls to Go menu items are prepared. Lampton and his partners own the 310 Pub, 7 West Taphouse and Grizzly’s Wood-Fired Grill.

A new Duluth restaurant is going without wait staff, tables, even walls because its fresh, hot food is delivered wherever hungry customers want to eat.

Rick Lampton, a partner in the restaurant group behind 7 West Taphouse, Grizzly’s Wood-Fired Grill and 310 Pub, launched a new internet eatery called Bowls to Go on Aug. 15. The project is being billed as “the first delivery-only restaurant” serving the Twin Ports.

“The delivery way of doing things is becoming more and more popular, especially with young people,” said Lampton. “Young people don’t cook as much because they’re busy. They just want their food delivered to them.”

Bowls to Go uses the kitchen space at 310 Pub in Canal Park to service a menu featuring a signature ramen noodle bowl, five different macaroni and cheese selections, soups and salads and three rice bowls – including a vegan option. Ordering and delivery is handled on-line by Food Dudes.

The Twin Ports third-party delivery website Food Dudes carries the Bowls to Go menu online.

Lampton said his restaurant company was looking for ways to improve delivery options, supplement its sales and utilize kitchen space already in operation. The business looked to the internet.

“Virtual restaurants are a little more popular in California — in bigger cities,” he said. “We thought it would be a good opportunity to try it out and experiment with some comfort food.”

Downtown Duluth workers make up a good portion of the Bowls to Go customer base, said Lampton. Orders can be placed online and food will be delivered at the designated time directly to the office, lunch room, group meeting or anywhere with an address.

Hungry customers can find the Bowls to Go menu along with more than 50 other Twin Ports-based restaurants on fooddudesdelivery.com/duluth. After a meal order is placed, a Food Dudes driver stops at the restaurant, picks up the food and delivers it to the specified address in an hour or less.

The delivery system is based on a telephone model established long ago by pizza parlors and Chinese restaurants. In the past, customers called a restaurant, placed an order and paid upon delivery; now orders, transactions and delivery are completed through an internet-based, third party business like Food Dudes.

“So we don’t have to hire delivery drivers, buy cars and insurance,” said Lampton. “With the virtual restaurant, which is really nice, is we created another restaurant without any overhead. We already have a kitchen. We already pay the rent, pay the utilities, so it’s just an added income.”

Food Dudes Managing Partner Josie Scheiterlein said prepared meal delivery is a growing trend across the country.

“A lot of it has to do with the convenience factor, but also lifestyles are just much different,” she said. “We’re seeing families that are much more on the go, constantly having things to do with children, sporting events, families working multiple jobs. Things have changed.”

Food Dudes was established 11 years ago in St. Cloud, Minn. The company opened a Twin Ports branch in 2014 and now delivers food from 50 restaurants to customers in Duluth, Superior, Hermantown and Proctor.

Scheiterlein said when she started managing the Duluth branch three years ago there were five or six drivers. Now she manages 60.

“They’re going everywhere,” she said. “When somebody wants Bowls to Go — or perhaps even Tavern on the Hill — over in Superior, we’re going to get them that food.”

Scheiterlein said a large number of drivers, a quality dispatch system and timing are critical to a successful modern food-delivery operation.

Bowls to Go offers a wide selection of noodle and rice bowls, including this ramen bowl filled with vegetables.

“It’s a little bit different than pizza and Chinese food because that has very low perishability,” she said. “When you’re talking a burger and fries the importance of getting a driver there as the food is coming up or before it’s done is much higher than a pizza or noodles sitting there.”

“It’s been amazing to be able to offer a service that gets people fresh food that has come up recently and not old, soggy food,” she said.

Lampton said Bowls to Go specializes in fresh, hot, comfort food based around rice, noodles and ramen but menu options are unlimited for new “virtual restaurant” operations.

“You could pretty much do anything,” he said. “Pizza and Chinese food were always the staples of it but you’re going to start seeing a lot more enter that market.”

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