CBS Chicago | Vince Gerasole | November 8, 2019

OAK PARK, Ill. (CBS) — From the outside looking in, Cucina Paradiso is still a well-known Italian restaurant in Oak Park. But for the past two months, it’s cooked up the not-so Mediterranean Nashville fried chicken. Out of the same kitchen, with the same staff, owners have created a restaurant that exists only online for delivery — a concept they call Boulevard Bird. A small sign outside has fun with the “secret location.”

“It’s hard to imagine you are getting orders for a restaurant that doesn’t exist,” said owner Anthony Gambino.

Online ordering is a $26.8 billion industry, and these “virtual restaurants” are emerging to meet growing demand. It’s fueled by diners ages 18 to 29. And 63% have used a delivery app in the past 90 days. But are health departments prepared to guarantee the safety of these virtual restaurants? CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole went looking for answers.

The Cook County Department of Public Health said it is “not aware of restaurants that … exist only for online delivery.” The Chicago health department seemed a bit more informed, saying though the concept is new, all meals for sale “must be prepared in a commercial kitchen.”

“We all have to be certified in sanitation,” Gambino said.

Gambino says delivery sites like Grubhub or DoorDash won’t work with virtual restaurants whose kitchens don’t meet local health standards. Ordering from sites like these is a good way for consumers to make sure the food they are ordering is safe. “They have to legitimize that you have a brick and mortar,” Gambino said. “You are completely licensed, bonded and insured to even run a business to begin with.”

The virtual restaurant trend also allows owners to experiment with different types of cuisines without investing heavily in dining rooms and large staffs.

“If Boulevard Bird doesn’t work, maybe next week it’s brick oven pizza,” said Gambino.

While restaurants keep their health certifications available on site, there is no state law requiring online or virtual restaurants post their certificates on their websites.