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Barrio Food Hub's brave new world

Incredible technology, but not really a social destination

The human touch: Lonnie brings up the orders and assists the confused.
The human touch: Lonnie brings up the orders and assists the confused.

‘Over here!” yells Tim. We’ve split up, trying to find this one eatery. I’m on 26th street, with the naval supply ships at one end shoving their prows over the piers like nosey dogs. Tim’s gone up Boston Ave.


It’s a clear, post-rain spring morning. Sunlight drenching all the recently cold corners. We’re in the back and beyond of Barrio Logan, looking for lunch in all the wrong places. This is mostly industrial, with lots of Navy support businesses cheek-by-jowl with li’l ol’ wooden houses. Strutty dogs patrol their perimeter fences.


I hump up a block, past Angelo’s Towing, Jewelry by Madame Lumiere, Rolando’s Taco Shop. We could always stop at Rolando’s, except I have this bee in my bonnet about some automated food joint I heard about that sells en-tire menus from dozens of other food joints. AI food? Now Tim’s pointing like he’s found it. I finally join him outside this dark modern industrial building with a bright green artificial lawn, camp tables, and a couple of red umbrellas in its front yard. “Barrio Food Hub,” the sign says.


“Yeah, but where’s the food?” asks Tim.


Two people eating outside point to a door. “Through there.”


We come into this way-big space. “Many restaurants, one roof,” says a sign on the wall. “Order here,” says another. “Mix and match items in a single cart for dine-in and takeout.”


That’s a definite plus, being able to order from several chow halls at the same place. But how do they do it? “I have this picture of runners tearing out the back to different eateries around town to collect our orders,” I say to Tim. “But that can’t be practical.”


“So that means they cook...here?” suggests Tim. “There must be an awful lot of cooks milling about back there, waiting to get their eatery’s order.”


“Or we’re talking ghost kitchens?”


“Or cloud kitchens.”


“Whatever. How do we give our order? I yam star-ving!”


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“The board!” calls Lonnie, the only guy around. “Look at the board.” He’s a kind of laptop jockey, back there behind the high counter. Oh, yeah. “You put your order into one of those machines,” Lonnie says. “The food will be brought up to me, and placed in lockers. You will get a text message.”


Wow. All this for a taco or a burger? Gotta say, I feel like we’re a couple of aliens arriving on Planet Future Earth. And the fact is, this electronic board on the wall has not just 36 items, but wow, maybe 36 restaurants’ worth of food items. We’re talking sushi to Mediterranean to plain old burgers.


Because I guess what’s happening is that these are the Days of Delivery. Now you can start out your own restaurant, cooking from your own kitchen, or hiring kitchens in places like this. What you’re avoiding is having to have an actual restaurant. Instead, you’re tapping UberEats, Grubhub and Doordash to move your grub from, say, this hub to the customer’s front door. Covid was the godparent of this revolution, because people wanted food, but didn’t want to mingle to get it. And, natch, the smartphone was the midwife.


So yeah, I’m guessing that somewhere behind this counter, can-do cooks wearing many toques learn to cook everything that turns up on their order screen, from Asian to Italian to nuts and twigs, under different restaurant brand names, and voila! Virtual “webstaurants.”


Doesn’t make much difference to my good friend Tim: with thousands of items to choose from, he goes straight for — you guessed it — a double cheeseburger, from an outfit called Padreburger. Costs $10.99. (Plus, for plastic knives, forks, spoons, or chopsticks and napkins, you pay 25 cents. Click yaw preference.) Me, I’m looking at, to the board’s credit, a lot of healthy dishes, like the low-carb Impossible Bowl filled with raw “wings” of cauliflower ($17). But oh man. This is multiple choice gone crazy. I almost go for pollo asado fries (“fries topped with hormone-free chicken, cheese, guac, cream”) brought to you by a place called Fusion Tacoz (or is it Scratch Kitchen?) for $15.25. But I end up spotting something a little bit Korean: SeoulCal Fries, with chopped Korean fried chicken (What exactly is Korean about the chopped chicken? Who knows? As Tim says, the only problem here is that there are no people to go back and forth with about the details). It comes with green onions,  cheese, and gochujang aioli sauce. Costs $14.99.


“So, not the cheapest, but let’s just go with that,” I say. Then I add a side of roasted Brussels sprouts ($4.99). We each slot our debit cards into the machine and stand around for maybe 20 minutes. Then we get a ding on our phones, and it says something like, “Go to Locker 4.” And we go and pick our lunches out from one of these school lockers. Lonnie does come up and give Tim the last can of Diet Coke, which he was going to drink, because the dispenser’s out. (Would have cost $2.99.) Nice.


We take the two paper bags out into the sunshine and set down at a camp bench. You can hear distant squeaks and grinding from the ships working their cargo. Tim tears into his double cheeseburger, says it’s fine. I open my SeoulCal fries, and my side cup of roasted Brussels sprouts. Sprouts’re okay, but they’re a little more sprouty-smelling than I like. The gochujang on the chicken is great though, and the fries are good and crisp. 


So, does it work? “Honestly, as an experience, this place is a bit too cool,” says Tim. “Aren’t we supposed to be warm-blooded creatures? I like to talk to the waitresses, whatever. Kid around. Can’t do that with the screen.”


I agree. Incredible technology, but as a fun social destination? Not so much. 


The Place: Barrio Food Hub, 2707 Boston Ave., Barrio Logan, 310-691-2595

Hours: 11am-midnight, 7 days

Prices: From Padreburger, double cheese burger, $10.99; from Fusion Tacoz: pollo asado fries (with cheese, guac, cream) $15.25; from SeoulCal Chicken, SeoulCal Fries, with chopped Korean fried chicken with gochujang aioli sauce, $14.99; from Oishi Sushi: After Burner sushi (shrimp tempura, spicy crab), $15; Komodo Dragon (shrimp tempura, crab salad), $16; fried rice, $5; from F#ck Gluten: gluten-free Impossible Beef salad, $16

Bus: 929

Nearest Bus Stop: Main and 27th

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The human touch: Lonnie brings up the orders and assists the confused.
The human touch: Lonnie brings up the orders and assists the confused.

‘Over here!” yells Tim. We’ve split up, trying to find this one eatery. I’m on 26th street, with the naval supply ships at one end shoving their prows over the piers like nosey dogs. Tim’s gone up Boston Ave.


It’s a clear, post-rain spring morning. Sunlight drenching all the recently cold corners. We’re in the back and beyond of Barrio Logan, looking for lunch in all the wrong places. This is mostly industrial, with lots of Navy support businesses cheek-by-jowl with li’l ol’ wooden houses. Strutty dogs patrol their perimeter fences.


I hump up a block, past Angelo’s Towing, Jewelry by Madame Lumiere, Rolando’s Taco Shop. We could always stop at Rolando’s, except I have this bee in my bonnet about some automated food joint I heard about that sells en-tire menus from dozens of other food joints. AI food? Now Tim’s pointing like he’s found it. I finally join him outside this dark modern industrial building with a bright green artificial lawn, camp tables, and a couple of red umbrellas in its front yard. “Barrio Food Hub,” the sign says.


“Yeah, but where’s the food?” asks Tim.


Two people eating outside point to a door. “Through there.”


We come into this way-big space. “Many restaurants, one roof,” says a sign on the wall. “Order here,” says another. “Mix and match items in a single cart for dine-in and takeout.”


That’s a definite plus, being able to order from several chow halls at the same place. But how do they do it? “I have this picture of runners tearing out the back to different eateries around town to collect our orders,” I say to Tim. “But that can’t be practical.”


“So that means they cook...here?” suggests Tim. “There must be an awful lot of cooks milling about back there, waiting to get their eatery’s order.”


“Or we’re talking ghost kitchens?”


“Or cloud kitchens.”


“Whatever. How do we give our order? I yam star-ving!”


Sponsored
Sponsored

“The board!” calls Lonnie, the only guy around. “Look at the board.” He’s a kind of laptop jockey, back there behind the high counter. Oh, yeah. “You put your order into one of those machines,” Lonnie says. “The food will be brought up to me, and placed in lockers. You will get a text message.”


Wow. All this for a taco or a burger? Gotta say, I feel like we’re a couple of aliens arriving on Planet Future Earth. And the fact is, this electronic board on the wall has not just 36 items, but wow, maybe 36 restaurants’ worth of food items. We’re talking sushi to Mediterranean to plain old burgers.


Because I guess what’s happening is that these are the Days of Delivery. Now you can start out your own restaurant, cooking from your own kitchen, or hiring kitchens in places like this. What you’re avoiding is having to have an actual restaurant. Instead, you’re tapping UberEats, Grubhub and Doordash to move your grub from, say, this hub to the customer’s front door. Covid was the godparent of this revolution, because people wanted food, but didn’t want to mingle to get it. And, natch, the smartphone was the midwife.


So yeah, I’m guessing that somewhere behind this counter, can-do cooks wearing many toques learn to cook everything that turns up on their order screen, from Asian to Italian to nuts and twigs, under different restaurant brand names, and voila! Virtual “webstaurants.”


Doesn’t make much difference to my good friend Tim: with thousands of items to choose from, he goes straight for — you guessed it — a double cheeseburger, from an outfit called Padreburger. Costs $10.99. (Plus, for plastic knives, forks, spoons, or chopsticks and napkins, you pay 25 cents. Click yaw preference.) Me, I’m looking at, to the board’s credit, a lot of healthy dishes, like the low-carb Impossible Bowl filled with raw “wings” of cauliflower ($17). But oh man. This is multiple choice gone crazy. I almost go for pollo asado fries (“fries topped with hormone-free chicken, cheese, guac, cream”) brought to you by a place called Fusion Tacoz (or is it Scratch Kitchen?) for $15.25. But I end up spotting something a little bit Korean: SeoulCal Fries, with chopped Korean fried chicken (What exactly is Korean about the chopped chicken? Who knows? As Tim says, the only problem here is that there are no people to go back and forth with about the details). It comes with green onions,  cheese, and gochujang aioli sauce. Costs $14.99.


“So, not the cheapest, but let’s just go with that,” I say. Then I add a side of roasted Brussels sprouts ($4.99). We each slot our debit cards into the machine and stand around for maybe 20 minutes. Then we get a ding on our phones, and it says something like, “Go to Locker 4.” And we go and pick our lunches out from one of these school lockers. Lonnie does come up and give Tim the last can of Diet Coke, which he was going to drink, because the dispenser’s out. (Would have cost $2.99.) Nice.


We take the two paper bags out into the sunshine and set down at a camp bench. You can hear distant squeaks and grinding from the ships working their cargo. Tim tears into his double cheeseburger, says it’s fine. I open my SeoulCal fries, and my side cup of roasted Brussels sprouts. Sprouts’re okay, but they’re a little more sprouty-smelling than I like. The gochujang on the chicken is great though, and the fries are good and crisp. 


So, does it work? “Honestly, as an experience, this place is a bit too cool,” says Tim. “Aren’t we supposed to be warm-blooded creatures? I like to talk to the waitresses, whatever. Kid around. Can’t do that with the screen.”


I agree. Incredible technology, but as a fun social destination? Not so much. 


The Place: Barrio Food Hub, 2707 Boston Ave., Barrio Logan, 310-691-2595

Hours: 11am-midnight, 7 days

Prices: From Padreburger, double cheese burger, $10.99; from Fusion Tacoz: pollo asado fries (with cheese, guac, cream) $15.25; from SeoulCal Chicken, SeoulCal Fries, with chopped Korean fried chicken with gochujang aioli sauce, $14.99; from Oishi Sushi: After Burner sushi (shrimp tempura, spicy crab), $15; Komodo Dragon (shrimp tempura, crab salad), $16; fried rice, $5; from F#ck Gluten: gluten-free Impossible Beef salad, $16

Bus: 929

Nearest Bus Stop: Main and 27th

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