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Stepping out of the shadows, Casper's not-so-dark kitchens are designed to be neighborhood-friendly

Dark or ghost kitchens got their name for a reason. The delivery-only restaurants are usually hidden behind darkened windows, blocking views and regular interactions with passersby. Casper, a fast-growing chain of ghost restaurants in Belgium, is taking a friendlier route.

The Ghent-based startup features open windows and a waiting area for delivery people. While Casper works with various delivery platforms, customers are also welcome to pick up orders from its nine brands, which range from burgers and Italian cuisine to Hacked, a meatless partnership with The Vegetarian Butcher.

Casper, which launched in 2020, just raised EUR 5 million in a Series A round and aims to expand internationally.

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Online food delivery surged during the pandemic. That explosive growth is over, and the industry may even see some decline, but consumers' ordering habits are likely to stick.

With their lower overhead, dark kitchens have an advantage over traditional restaurants and can  more easily shoulder the burden of steep commissions for delivery platforms. But — along with quick-delivery grocery apps — they're facing strong pushback from local residents who are less than thrilled with blacked-out windows and delivery people blocking sidewalks.

Casper's more affable and transparent approach could be the way forward. By removing anonymity and making their operations visible through open windows, kitchens and stores, delivery-only brands can start making a home for themselves in mixed-use neighborhoods.