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One of the first locally owned ghost kitchen opening in Columbia

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A photo of a sandwich and fries that will be available through delivery through Oh Me So Hungry, a new ghost kitchen opened by local chef Jeff Blackmon. Photo provided by Jeff Blackmon.

Chef Jeff Blackmon is always looking for the next big thing and, to him, that's ghost kitchens.

Ghost kitchens, as spooky as they might sound, are far from frightening. The concept — which has grown in popularity amid the COVID-19 pandemic — involves what is typically a takeout/to-go food business being run out of an existing commercial kitchen.

The idea is a simple and potentially lucrative one: add on revenue without adding too much extra cost. 

"I've noticed one thing about my path with this culinary art is you always have to stay a couple steps ahead and keep reinventing yourself. You learn and you create something, and you always try to stay relevant. You always try to stay different," he said. 

Restaurant owners have begun opening up and operating ghost kitchens in other cities around the country, including in Charleston and corporate chains have been operating in Columbia for at least the last year. 

Blackmon has worked in the hospitality and restaurant industry for over thirty years in capacities that range from banquet kitchens to his most recent project, the Me So Hungry food truck.

He announced in a Facebook post Tuesday that he would be opening up a new ghost kitchen as a spin off from his food truck's brand. Named Oh Me So Hungry, he plans to open it in two weeks, which will serve up popular bar food like chicken sandwiches and fries using Blackmon's signature Hennessy honey sauce. 

Blackmon has operated his food since 2018 and is a regular at Soda City market. He's deciding to venture out from one popular style of mobile eatery to a new one — one that relies heavily on delivery service apps like GrubHub and Uber Eats. 

He plans to scale back his food truck's hours to focus on the new ghost kitchen, but intends to remain a presence at the Saturday market.

Ghost kitchens, like national chain MrBeast Burger or WowBao, typically operate without a physical public presence — the strategy being to operate entirely offering food through delivery. In Columbia, ghost kitchens like WowBao have primarily operated out of corporate chains like Ruby Tuesdays. 

Chefs of ghost kitchens typically operate out of another restaurants' kitchen. In Blackmon's case, he'll work out of his own. He co-owns other bars and lounges in the Columbia area and will operate most of his ghost kitchen's operations out of Blue Magic nightclub in St. Andrews. 

Blackmon, who has worked in local upscale restaurants like Motor Supply Company Bistro, formed the idea to open a ghost kitchen when COVID-19 started and he realized he had the resources to bring something new to Columbia. 

Delivery service transactions in the United States nearly doubled between Feb. and Dec. 2020 as the industry boomed during the height of the pandemic, according to Edison Trends research. The industry continues to grow as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect aspects of life and business. 

Blackmon said he wants to work with delivery services to ensure his food is delivered fresh and in good condition, since there won't be a physical location for people to try his food. 

"We want to try to not really recreate the wheel, but improve the wheel when it comes to delivery service," Blackmon said.