Two Men Running a Ghost Kitchen in Northwest Portland Advertise 76 Distinct “Restaurants” on Food Delivery Apps

The menus at Breakfast Burrito Fetish and Blessed Burrito Bowls are largely the same.

THE LEFTOVERS: The building that houses Homage Industrial Kitchen still bears the name of its previous tenant, Pok Pok. (Mick Hangland-Skill)

While Reef Technology seems to be in retreat in Portland, another more traditional ghost kitchen appears to be thriving. Located in a 2,700-square-foot building in Northwest Portland, Homage Industrial Kitchen is booming, says owner John Wirtz.

Homage, registered with the state as a limited liability corporation, cooks food that’s branded under 76 distinct virtual restaurant names on apps such as Grubhub and Uber Eats.

If someone in Northwest Portland were to search for a burger on Uber Eats, it’s likely three or four of the restaurants that pop up sell food prepared in Wirtz’s kitchen at Northwest 17th Avenue and Marshall Street. Virtual restaurants from Wirtz’s operation include: 1-800-BURGERS!, the Taco Pit, Cupid’s Wings, Bitch Don’t Grill My Cheese, Dirty Burger and Dank Bites.

Wirtz, who spoke to WW by phone, is proud of his business model.

“Let’s say you have a new person go on to DoorDash and they don’t recognize any of the brands,” Wirtz says. “If there are 10 brands on there, and you own five of them, you have a 50% chance of them picking you. I mean, this is business by numbers.”

Wirtz says 85% of the menu for his brands with similar cuisines—say, Breakfast Burrito Fetish and Blessed Burrito Bowls—is identical.

He claims to fulfill 5,000 orders a week and brings in gross revenue of $63,000 a week. He says he has approximately 40 employees.

Wirtz is not without his critics.

“This place takes the cynical approach, which is throwing a thousand things at the wall and seeing if any stick. It feels deceptive,” says Kurt Huffman, the Portland restaurateur who founded Lardo, Ox and Grassa and runs a management company that helps open restaurants. “The whole thing is profoundly uninteresting and hopefully something that will die a fiery death. These are the perversions of ghost kitchens.”

(When the pandemic hit, Huffman’s catering company ran five ghost concepts out of its kitchen. That lasted six months before catering returned and Huffman scrapped the idea.)

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Over the past two years, seven former employees of Wirtz’s filed complaints with the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries, alleging withheld paychecks, unpaid overtime and stolen tips. All complaints remain under investigation.

Wirtz is not new to the food business. The Oregon native, 30, has worked as a line cook, chef and waiter in restaurants since high school. But in 2017, according to a court affidavit by then-Washington County deputy district attorney Kevin Barton, Wirtz invited a 14-year-old runaway girl to his Beaverton apartment, agreeing to let her stay there in exchange for sex.

According to Barton’s affidavit, Wirtz and his roommate “separately engaged in sexual acts with the victim” when she arrived, to which she could not consent because she was under 18. Indictment documents say Wirtz’s roommate, Muizz Sosna, threatened the victim with a firearm when she attempted to leave.

Wirtz agreed to a plea deal, agreeing to testify against Sosna in exchange for dropped kidnapping and commercial sexual solicitation charges. He pleaded guilty to rape and sexual assault.

Wirtz spent a year and a half in custody while awaiting sentencing, according to the prosecutor in the case. In July 2018, Wirtz was sentenced to five years’ probation minus time served. However, the Oregon State Police’s Sex Offender Registration Section tells WW that Wirtz’s probation ended Sept. 23, 2020.

WW asked if he employs any minors. Wirtz said he does.

This spring, Wirtz brought in a “chief operating officer” to help out at Homage: former Salem cop Seth Thayres.

Thayres appears to have little experience in the food business and, in February 2019, retired after five years with the Salem Police Department when he was arrested by authorities. Two months later, Thayres was convicted in Clackamas County Circuit Court of theft after he and an accomplice stole more than $30,000 worth of equipment from two businesses.

Soon after he pleaded guilty to those charges, he fled to Florida to evade another rash of theft, burglary and computer crime charges. He was extradited back to Oregon and sentenced to two years in prison, according to court documents.

Thayres, when reached by phone, acknowledged he’d made mistakes, but told WW he’s “actually glad that it happened because it got me stabilized with my medications and in housing.”

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