By Gregory Barber
Happy Khao Thai has an address on San Francisco’s Mission Street, but don’t go there looking for a storefront. A sign on the sidewalk reading “Food pick up here” points, improbably, through the maw of a demolished theater, of which all that’s left is the marquee. Behind it, in what would have been the lobby, is a parking lot, and way in the rear—backstage, perhaps—are a pair of portable toilets and a trailer. That’s the home of Happy Khao Thai, although the logos on the door suggest it could just as well serve tacos and wings.
Happy Khao is a so-called ghost kitchen—part of a network run by a Softbank-funded company that recently expanded from parking technology into parking lot–based food prep. This week, it became a central spoke in a quintessentially San Francisco mystery. How had the menu at this VC-backed, delivery-only kitchen, which includes a short list of Thai staples and—criminally to some—Vietnamese pho, been confused on Grubhub with that of Michelin-starred Kin Khao, a restaurant about two miles north that does not deliver at all?
The answer, it turned out, was bound up in the bizarre dynamics of the low-margin, highly competitive business of food delivery.
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