David Chang
David ChangeGetty Images
  • David Chang's Fuku was a high-profile brand that sold food through ghost kitchen startup Reef.
  • Fuku cut ties with the startup following reports of food safety issues inside trailers run by Reef. 
  • The fried chicken chain now plans to grow nationally by working with Reef rival Kitchen United. 

David Chang's popular fried chicken restaurant Fuku has dropped its partnership with ghost kitchen operator Reef Technology and is now working with the startup's competitor, Kitchen United.

On Wednesday, Southern California-based Kitchen United announced a new partnership to expand Chang's Fuku brand nationwide. Fuku's first ghost kitchen with Kitchen United opened on December 15 in Santa Monica, California. 

Michael Montagano, CEO of Kitchen United, said the company is "honored to be chosen by Fuku and look forward to sharing it with our fellow Fuku fans across the country."

Last week, Insider exclusively reported that Fuku had ceased its partnership with Reef. 

Fuku's exit comes amid reports of operational chaos at Reef, a fast-growing ghost kitchen startup backed by SoftBank.  

The company has raised $1.5 billion in venture capital and struck partnerships with national chains such as Wendy's, Burger King, and TGI Fridays.

Insider previously reported on Reef's health department violations, poor working conditions, and customer complaints of raw and undercooked food.

Multiple run-ins with health inspectors in New York City, Houston, Detroit, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Austin, Texas, have led to Reef temporarily shutting down food trailers in those cities.

Last week, Insider obtained leaked emails and photos showing a pattern of customer complaints of raw and undercooked food coming out of Reef mobile kitchens across the US. A majority of the complaints reviewed by Insider were categorized as "undercooked food" from brands such as Fuku. 

That same week, Fuku said it was no longer working with Reef. 

Alex Munoz-Suarez, CEO of Fuku, said in a statement that Kitchen United shares Fuku's "passion for executing a fast-to-market strategy while maintaining incredibly high brand and kitchen operations standards." 

Kitchen United in Chicago
Kitchen United refers to its ghost kitchens as food halls because consumers can walk in and order.Kitchen United

Kitchen United is a pioneer in the ghost kitchen space that includes Reef and Travis Kalanick's CloudKitchens. The startups have different models, though.

Reef cooks food for brands under licensing deals, while Kitchen United rents kitchens to chains looking to expand their delivery footprint. CloudKitchens has a similar model to Kitchen United. Reef's trailers are situated mainly in parking lots, while Kitchen United's ghost kitchens are accessible to consumers and are similar to food halls. CloudKitchens has also experimented with the food hall model.

Kitchen United's first kitchen facility opened in 2018 in a retail district in Pasadena. Since then, Kitchen United has grown to nine locations across the US, including Scottsdale, Arizona; two in Chicago; Austin, Texas; San Jose, California, and New York City. This year, the company expanded its facilities in New York after buying New York-based ghost kitchen operator Zuul.  

Fuku started as a secret fried chicken sandwich available at Chang's famed Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York City. He opened the first Fuku in 2015 in the East Village. Fuku will expand to new and existing Kitchen United locations across the country, including Texas and New York City, where Fuku already operates brick-and-mortar restaurants, both companies said Wednesday.  

Read the original article on Business Insider