The country's first "ghost restaurant" has popped up on Auckland's Ponsonby Rd - and you won't find its customers queuing for a table or sipping sparkling water inside.

Hot Lips, which specialises in Nashville-style fried chicken and cauliflower, is a new kitchen operating solely on Uber Eats.

Created by restaurateurs Conor and Tyler Kerlin, the food outlet is operating out of Ha! Poke - the former Rocket Kitchen - on Ponsonby Rd.

The pair enlisted the help of their business partners Jamie Mitchell, who ran the outfit, and Mike Shand - whose secondary gig was as Jay Z and Beyonce's tour chef.


The kitchen was predominantly used for the preparation of Hot Lips orders, while Ha! Poke bowls were whipped up in a second kitchen area behind the store counter.

California-born Kerlin said the concept came about after the brothers noticed similar things happening back in the US.

"We had been following some trends in the States with the virtual kitchens, and, owning around 40 restaurants already we know that the cost of leases is just going up and up and up."

"Even staffing and everything - the labour of cost - it makes it really difficult to make a dollar."

So they rolled out the idea for Hot Lips, operating from the spare space they had in the Ha! Poke kitchen and delivering the locally-sourced menu straight to Aucklanders' couches.

Doing so allowed them to test out a new restaurant concept without the drama of navigating Auckland's real estate scene, hiring wait staff or advertising.

The kitchen, where pastry chefs used to craft sweet treats for Rocket Kitchen, was named Saylor's Kitchen - in memory of Kerlin's daughter Saylor Rose.

The 2-year-old passed away last year after being found unconscious in a family friend's pool - a tragedy Kerlin said had delayed him in launching the new venture.

Chef Mike Shand and Conor Kerlin at work for Hot Lips, run from the Ha! Poke kitchen. Photo / Supplied
Chef Mike Shand and Conor Kerlin at work for Hot Lips, run from the Ha! Poke kitchen. Photo / Supplied

However, he said it was exciting to be back doing what he loved - creating food "as good for the stomach as it is for the soul".

Cost-cutting carried through to staffing and the investment in kitchen equipment - the team of chefs whipping up Hot Lips fried chicken and cauliflower for delivery was the same as those creating poke bowls for customers in the shop font.

The set-up also allowed them to interchange between creating food for the two brands in accordance with demand.

Kerlin said demand for the new restaurant had so far, been strong.

While the concept of a ghost, or virtual, restaurant was new to New Zealand, it was commonplace overseas in countries like the United States.

Marisa Bidois, chief executive officer of the Restaurant Association, called the launch an "exciting development".

She predicted it wouldn't be the last of its kind, particularly likely in high-rent, high-density areas like Auckland.

"These virtual restaurants have really taken off, especially say, in California, Chicago and a few other places around the States.

"A number of different businesses may be sharing a space in those cases to produce the virtual restaurants."

Nicky Preston, spokesperson for Uber, said virtual restaurants would be expected to follow food safety rules and regulations, like any other brick and mortar outlet.

When surveyed on their predictions for the year's biggest food trends, several Restaurant Association members picked online ordering as being the biggest up-and-comer.

One participant said "industry disrupters" like Uber Eats were changing consumer expectations, and could push smaller businesses out of the market.

Despite restaurateur's' concern, we shouldn't expect to see restaurants rapidly closing up shop: Bidois said restaurants did "a lot more" than just serve up food.

"They create ambiance, atmosphere, connections with people… sure you can create this at home but it's nice to have options."