Fridges Are the Latest Appliance Shortage Delaying Restaurant Openings

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The latest challenge has forced one restaurant to push back opening day to over a year later.

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Restaurateurs are already grappling with supply-chain snarls, labor shortages, and ever-changing red tape. But upcoming openings are being put on ice for a new reason: unusually slow turnaround times for custom-built walk-in refrigerators, an essential piece of kitchen equipment.

Before the pandemic, it took a brisk four weeks to get one. Now the wait can stretch to six months.

“It’s the silliest of delays,” says Josh Phillips, president of Destination Unknown Restaurants, which owns Ghostburger, Destino, and Las Gemelas. “It’s a refrigerator.”

When Phillips and his partners were looking to upgrade Ghostburger from a buzzy ghost kitchen inside the Shaw Mexican restaurant Espita to a brick-and-mortar space of its own, sourcing a walk-in became a sticking point. It would add at least two months to the opening date, costing the group $30,000 to $40,000 in rent before the business earned a dime. In the end, Phil­lips and his partners decided to forgo a new space entirely. They shuttered Espita and turned it into Ghostburger.

Meanwhile, it took nine months for the walk-in to arrive at Clarendon’s breezy West Coast–inspired Bar Ivy, pushing back its launch by more than a year.

The reason for the delays? A shortage of the chemicals necessary to make the insulating foams that fill a refrigerator’s walls.

Restaurateurs are adapting, anticipating the longer lead time to score a fridge. Yuan and Carey Tang, who own the 14th Street tasting-menu restaurant Rooster & Owl, were originally planning to open Ellie Bird, a family-friendly cafe in West Falls Church, last November. Now they’re hoping for February. Part of the reason for the delay was new snags: finding electrical panels and HVAC components that used to be easy to procure before the pandemic.

This article appears in the January 2023 issue of Washingtonian.

Parenting writer

Nevin Martell is a parenting, food, and travel writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, Saveur, Men’s Journal, Fortune, Travel + Leisure, Runner’s World, and many other publications. He is author of eight books, including It’s So Good: 100 Real Food Recipes for Kids, Red Truck Bakery Cookbook: Gold-Standard Recipes from America’s Favorite Rural Bakery, and the small-press smash Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip. When he isn’t working, he loves spending time with his wife and their six-year-old son, who already runs faster than he does.

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