CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – It has been nearly six months since the owner of Sandwich Max last served a customer at his long-time location in South End.

Since then, he has traded in an entire restaurant for a ghost kitchen. Long gone are the days of yelling out orders and lines of customers at the counter.

“It is definitely different,” said owner Sam Nicholson. “Definitely different.”

When Nicholson found out he had to vacate his sandwich shop from the building along South Boulevard earlier this year, he looked for alternatives to stay in business. Ultimately, he came across a ghost kitchen with South End Eats.

“Going from over 1800 square feet to 250 square feet has been a great culture shock for us as far as being so tight in,” he said.y

A ghost kitchen concept is less interaction and more takeout and delivery. Customers order online or through an app instead of dining in or placing orders face-to-face. The kitchen gets an alert, makes the food, and then puts the to-go order in a locker for pickup.

“We see their names on the ticket; we just don’t get to see their faces,” Nicholson said.

It’s a new reality that has taken some time getting used to. After nearly 30 years of seeing customers daily, he misses the face-to-face interactions that naturally come with running a restaurant.

“Dining is a very social event, and when you have a brick and mortar, people can sit down and socialize and have a sense of community,” he said. “You lose that with this kind of environment. So, I think we are all missing that a little bit.”

With the increased demand for online ordering and delivery, the National Retail Federation estimated that the ghost kitchen industry will exceed $70 billion in the coming years.

While the concept has helped Nicholson stay in business, he says his tiny kitchen is only temporary.

“It’s been a good fit for us for what we needed at the time,” he said.

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Nicholson said he signed a one-year lease with South End Eats that expires in April. He is looking at other locations across the city to open a brick-and-mortar shop.