Fuddruckers goes Krogering, Trying out Kroger’s new ghost kitchen

Howdy folks, and welcome back to Houston Historic Retail! When I started out this blog, I had one intention, I wanted to cover retail-focused content about my fair Bayou-City. This blog actually started all the way back in 2015. One thing I never had intentions of doing was becoming a food critic. I don’t have the palate or the expressive vocabulary needed to accomplish this I like fast food and small words. That being said, today we’re doing a restaurant review well sort of, I’d struggle to call today’s topic a true restaurant as it’s not even in the name. Kitchen United Mix is a ghost kitchen, if you’re unfamiliar with the concept, basically it’s a kitchen run by a third party, contracted by certain restaurants to prepare food for them. Ghost kitchens are not brand new and saw a rise in popularity for increasing delivery service areas, without having to build a restaurant. The success of ghost kitchens has been largely dependent on the increase in demand for food delivery options, however, ghost kitchens have also gained a somewhat negative reputation. They’re generally considered lower quality than the normal selection and have a more limited fare. To help combat this, ghost kitchens have largely started to move away from the food truck/trailer setups they were initially born out of, and into more permanent spaces. Kitchen United’s idea is to bring these ghost kitchens directly into grocery stores, and create a banner for them to all operate under. It’s not a bad situation you think about it. Many grocery stores already lease out space, and fast-food restaurants inside them are not terribly uncommon either. The partnership between Kroger and KMU was announced earlier this year, with plans to move into multiple Kroger locations throughout the nation. The ghost kitchens will feature a combination of both national and local brands, but I was interested in trying out Fuddruckers. As one of my favorite burger joints, any attempt to save it is met with praise by me. There was a recent announcement that a Kitchen United Mix location would open in a Houston Kroger, and I wanted to check it out!

So, now it’s time to tell you how the burger was, and while I do often mention the quality of food on HRR, I’ll be honest in saying that I’m more often than not on the generous side. This was not a good burger, and it was not a Fuddruckers burger. The bun was there’s, but nothing else was. The patty could have been from Fudd’s but the seasoning on it definitely was not. The produce was warm, wilted, and much lower quality than the norm. The potato wedges were a marked improvement but also had the seasoning problem. They had been seasoned, but it wasn’t with Fuddruckers spices, this tasted like Lawry’s. The brownie was fine and likely trucked in, although I do wish they offered the Rice Krispie Treats instead. Overall, I can’t say I’d come here again. Reading some online reviews, it looks like other folks have had issues with KMU’s Houston location as well. So much so, it seems that it is at least temporarily closed as of the middle of March. Who knows, exactly what the future holds for Kitchen Mix United, but I don’t foresee a full rollout of these ghost kitchens throughout the division. With some stores already struggling for space as is, Kroger’s best bet is not to focus on leasing space, but trying to catch up to HEB before it’s too late. Despite all of its issues, it does seem that Fuddruckers is fully buying into this idea, promoting this as a full-fledged location on their website. We shall see what the future holds for Kroger, and Fuddruckers.

6 comments

  1. Looks like Fuddruckers is officially back to using the bottlecap logo. Probably a good call, since their previous incarnation did not seem to ever have the resources or interest to fully follow through with implementing their “new” logo. Plus, the bottlecap logo is a better logo.

    While I wouldn’t expect any grocery store ghost kitchen to match what was provided in the actual restaurant, this sounds particularly disappointing. Nevertheless, I’m sure if it was located in an HEB I would have friends telling me how it was better than the restaurant…

  2. Fresher than fresh…err…maybe not!

    The wilted looking hamburger aside, this is one sad looking store. It looks as industrial as an HEB. With that in mind, who is going to trade in HEB and their low prices for Kroger and a soggy Fuddruckers wannabe hamburger?

    While offering customers some choice in prepared foods might help Kroger compete against HEB, it seems to me that they ought to focus on improving the appearance of their stores. Make them look like a proper mid-tier supermarket instead of a Home Depot of food. The service needs to reflect the mid-tier status as well. Kroger might not be able to compete on prices, but some of us would gladly trade in HEB and their low prices for a supermarket with a better experience and fresh products. Sadly, I’m not sure if Kroger is really doing a great job of providing this now as they were about 30 years ago when they launched their beautiful Kroger Signature stores with the Kroger Neon decor in Houston and were able to crush Randall’s, Food Lion, Albertsons, Gerland’s, Rice Epicurean, and most of the other competitors of the 1990s (HEB aside even though I suppose the competitor at the time was HEB Pantry Foods).

    Oddly enough, when Kroger launched those Kroger Signature stores in 1993, some of the first ones had things like Pizza Hut Express, Taco Bell Express, and so forth. I suppose this isn’t exactly the same thing, but it’s a bit of a return to a previously failed concept.

    1. In the interests of fairness, Food Lion’s arrival in Houston coincided with an ABC News hidden-camera investigation that showed Food Lion employees rewrapping bad meat among other unsavory practices. The company barely survived and their Houston expansion was DOA.

      The always competitive Houston grocery market changed dramatically in the 90s and much could be written about it. Rice Food Markets started the decade with their usual format stores, the discount Price Buster Foods and the high-end Rice Epicurean. By the millennium only the Epicurean stores survived-Price Buster was scuttled and after a failed upgrade to the regular stores called Grocery World, Rice put their eggs in the Epicurean basket. Now, only one remains. I have been curious as to why Albertsons left in the early 2000s and what triggered the downfall of Randalls. HEB introduced their standard format stores in the area in the late 90s and gradually phased out the Pantry format but that’s not the only reason. And this site has addressed how Gerland’s Food Fair was gradually absorbed into Food Town.

      1. Hi Michael, that’s quite true about Food Lion and the ABC News fiasco. I’m sure that really hurt their chances here a lot. However, we had one of the first Houston-area Food Lions near me at the time and Food Lion was really not prepared to compete here in Houston. They were basically opening stores the size of and with the interior looks of early 1980s Safeway and Kroger stores at a time when Randall’s and Kroger were opening very upscale stores. Now, if Food Lion had some sort of pricing advantage, none of this might have mattered as we saw with HEB Pantry Foods stores, but they didn’t have a price advantage. Food Lion had some very lousy locations in Houston as well. I just don’t think they did their homework on this market when they elected to come here. I’ve seen a lot of grocers come and go from Houston, but I don’t know if any were as unprepared as Food Lion was and that’s even ignoring the ABC News issue.

        As billytheskink pointed out some weeks back in a blog comment, after Safeway, Eagle, and Grand Union left Houston in the 1980s, Kroger was left as the only major national chain in Houston and they were competing against the local chains like Rice, Gerland’s, Fiesta, and company. As Houston’s economy was rebounding, others thought they could carve a piece of the market and so we saw an influx of new chains in town.

        Albertsons had the problem that their expansion into Houston came at a time when they were expanding (probably over-expanding) nationally. Like Houston, a lot of the places where they were expanding were not successful. Albertsons had been in Dallas quite a bit before they came here and they had success in DFW, but they could not replicate that in Houston, Austin, or San Antonio. I think their first batch of stores, the Blue & Grey Market decor stores, did not have the visual appeal of the new Kroger Signature and Randall’s stores and without any sort of pricing or service edge against those two, Albertsons struggled to get traction here. Albertsons stepped up their visual appeal game big time with the Awnings and Grocery Palace stores, but those were launched a time when Albertsons’ prices were increasingly being viewed as noncompetitive as HEB was expanding around town and Walmart was expanding their number of Supercenters. Add the problems the company was having with over-expansion with the pricing problems and Albertsons was not going to last long here. They did stick around in Dallas where they had a longer history and where the mix of competitors was slightly different.

        Randall’s had a few problems. Although Randall’s stores and amenities were considered top-notch in the early 1990s, Kroger’s new Signature stores were basically just as nice, but bigger, newer, and they had exciting new amenities such as free child care. Since Kroger was perceived as being a bit cheaper, well, Randall’s had a lot of catching up to do. At the same time, Randall’s was expanding into places such as Austin and Lufkin. Then, they bought out Tom Thumb in Dallas and Randall’s wasn’t initially well-received by loyal Tom Thumb customers. Randall’s was probably doing too much at a time when Kroger was starting to stick it to them. That lead to the involvement of KKR. That itself led to the Safeway buyout.

        Since HEB only had their Pantry Foods stores and since Walmart Supercenters were just starting to grow in the 1990s, Kroger proved to be the kings of Houston by the late 1990s. Unfortunately for them, Walmart and HEB have a pricing advantage and that seems to be the key to swinging Houston customer preferences in their favor. In Houston at least, the notion of competing on the basis of having a nice looking store seems to be a relic of the 1990s.

  3. Ghost kitchens are a good option for restaurants but their delivery people have a hard time delivering to the right address. In my little condo complex, I and my neighbors are constantly finding food outside our doors that we didn’t order. Problem is they never knock. I and my neighbors step outside to find some food by our doorstep. It only has a name of the person the food was for but no address or tel # for them. I had just eaten when a neighbor knocked on my door to tell me I had a delivery outside. I wasn’t hungry and we decided she should eat it since there was no way of contacting anyone on the delivery. Felt sorry for the person the food was for but it was better than throwing the food out. This week my neighbor had some food by his door, I knocked to let him know but he said he didn’t order it. He left in case they delivery person took a photo and hoped the right person would see it and find it. 14 hours later it still sat there.

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