NORTH CENTER — As more restaurants have been forced to survive on takeout and delivery-only, so-called “ghost kitchens” have become a popular option for food sellers looking to save on rent and share kitchen space with other chefs.
But as the pandemic drags on and residents continue to order in, some North Center neighbors say delivery drivers coming and going from Cloud Kitchens all day is creating a traffic nightmare.
Cloud Kitchens, one of several “ghost kitchens” in the city, opened last year at 4131 N. Rockwell St. over objections from Ald. Matt Martin (47th) and neighbors.
They worried allowing the ghost kitchen’s takeout- and delivery-focused business model would create traffic and parking headaches. Those worries have become a reality — and now city officials are intervening.
Martin’s office and representatives from the city’s Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Department hosted a community meeting Tuesday to review the numerous complaints that have arisen from Cloud Kitchens’ business operations. Those have included semi-trucks and delivery drivers double or triple parking and persistent litter from food wrappings.
The owners now have a little over two weeks to submit a detailed plan of action to Martin and the business department on how to resolve the problems.
Cloud Kitchens is a startup specializing in providing commercial kitchens for delivery-only restaurants. Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has a controlling stake in the company.
The North Center location is home to a variety of restaurants that only offer takeout or delivery, the largest of which is Chick-Fil-A. It also has been the site of Monti’s Cheesesteaks while its owner rebuilds after a fire.
‘Confrontations And Daily Parking Issues’
More than 50 neighbors and nearby business owners attended the sometimes contentious meeting and shared complaints about parking, litter and other issues.
“I’ve personally experienced confrontations and daily parking issues,” said Julia Miller, CEO of Delmark Records at 4121 N. Rockwell St., which is on the same block as Cloud Kitchens. “There are problems with delivery trucks every single day, and it’s worse in the afternoon.”
Seventy-one people work at the site. Ten work directly for Cloud Kitchens and the rest work for the restaurants there, said Deidra Suber, general manager for Cloud Kitchens.
Peak hours of operation are 11 a.m.-7 p.m., where Cloud Kitchens’ restaurants are “averaging between 50 to 75 orders per hour,” Suber said.
That crush of activity is concentrated on a small street.
Since opening, traffic has increased in the area — and so have safety issues, Martin said at the meeting. He said drivers related to the business aren’t been “sufficiently attentive” to stop signs, have used residents’ driveways and have caused crashes.
Police recorded 13 parking violations, seven calls for disturbance and three crashes Oct. 26-Jan. 26 around Cloud Kitchen’s address.
“The bulk of those calls to police happened during the evening, which we assume is their dinner-time rush,” Sgt. Aaron Levine said.
Miller also complained Cloud Kitchens isn’t doing enough to mitigate the smells that come out of the business. She said she’s lost numerous clients because her recording studio reeks of Chick-Fil-A.
Barbara Royal, from Royal Treatment Veterinary Center at 4130 N. Rockwell St., also said she has lost clients due to the lack of parking and congestion created by the the semi-truck drivers delivering supplies to Cloud Kitchens and the smaller delivery drivers picking up takeout orders on Rockwell Street.
“Clients have been met with not just traffic problems but a lot of rudeness and confrontations. And a lot of of the dogs who are coming out of the clinic see all the garbage everywhere, which is not great because [the] dogs will try to eat it,” Royal said.
Residents said they are frustrated with delivery drivers using their driveways to make three-point turns and other drivers performing U-turns on Rockwell Avenue. They fear reckless driving will lead to a pedestrian being seriously injured.
“I have two kids. We can no longer safely let our kids in our front yard. My son was almost hit by a car riding his bike in our own driveway,” neighbor Marla Commons said.
Addressing The Problems
Suber said Cloud Kitchens hired off-duty and retired police officers this month to direct drivers after being told of delivery drivers creating logjams on the street and being rude to neighboring businesses and residents.
“In order to address the issue of double parking, we have worked with the delivery platforms to have a text message sent to each driver when they are matched with an order that instructs them to not double park or block driveways,” Suber said. “To reinforce this, [our new security team] are prohibiting drivers from entering the building if they are double parked.”
To address the littering issue, Suber said the company has added more public-use garage cans.
The company is seeking city approval to set up a loading area for semi-trucks at the front of its building to prevent double parking, Suber said.
Suber and Emily Madavo, an attorney for Cloud Kitchens, said they’d present a mitigation plan to the city’s business department and Martin by Feb. 12.
Another public meeting to discuss that plan is planned for 10 a.m. Feb. 22.
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