If the success of delivery sites like Grubhub and Seamless and the constant presence of delivery men on bikes are any indication, New Yorkers love their takeout.
But ordering takeout can be a huge hassle, at least according to the team behind food delivery startup Maple, which launches in Manhattan’s Financial District today.
“If you think of what plagues online delivery right now, it’s pretty poor food quality, really inconsistent delivery times, an overwhelming number of choices, and bloated prices,” Maple cofounder and CEO Caleb Merkl said to Business Insider. “Our goal is really to tackle all of that.”
Maple has tapped into a network of award-winning chefs to create a daily rotating menu that they hope can be delivered to you in less than 30 minutes.
David Chang, founder of the Momofuku restaurant empire, joined the venture early on. Mark Ladner and Brooks Headley of Del Posto and former ABC Kitchen executive chef Dan Kluger are also advising on the menu.
Soa Davies, former head of menu research and development at three-Michelin-starred Le Bernardin, is Maple’s executive chef.
“We thought it was really important to have a council involved so that food was always at the forefront of what we were doing,” Merkl said. “It’s easy to say we’re a tech company or a startup, but at the heart we’re really a food company.”
When you open the Maple app, you’ll see three meal options. Choices could include a green chile enchilada made with local tortillas, baked arctic char served with a green olive relish and broccoli rabe, or rosemary lemon chicken on a bed of mushrooms, for example.
Pick one of the three options, enter your address and payment method, and you can have your meal delivered to your front door in half an hour.
“We wanted to create an opportunity for people to order balanced meals that they typically couldn’t find in the to-go or online ordering world right now,” Davies said. “We want to bring the mentality of high-end farm-to-table restaurants to a wide base of consumers who don’t typically get to eat at all the new places.”
Davies met Merkl and Maple cofounder Akshay Navle through Chang last summer.
Merkl and Navle had met at Primary Ventures, where they came up with their idea to completely make over food delivery.
To Davies the idea seemed exciting, but it was also extremely daunting.
With a rotating menu of three options each for lunch and dinner, she would need to develop 90 meals every three weeks.
A cookbook generally has about 90 recipes in it, something Davies knows from experience — she’s co-authored two of them with Le Bernardin’s Eric Ripert.
“It takes anywhere from eight to 18 months to write a cookbook,” Davies said. “I still think they’re crazy.”
But it’s not just the sheer number of recipes that was intimidating — Davies has found that launching a startup requires developing skills she never needed in the restaurant world.
“Everyday we’re learning something new, like what foods travel better, how you keep foods hotter, what foods won’t work because they’re leaking out too much liquid, or maybe the sauce has too much viscosity,” she said.
“When you’re developing food for a restaurant, especially a high end restaurant, you don’t have to think of any of those things.”
Packaging proved to be an especially difficult challenge. Merkl says they looked through nearly 200 different versions before deciding on the current one.
“When you’re doing delivery, you lose the aspect of plating, so we wanted to be sure it could still be presented well in the box,” he said. “Restaurants don’t have margin in their business for packaging. It’s amazing to me that most takeout food is delivered in one of those ‘I Love NY’ bags with the sauce spilled all over.”
One major focus was maintaining consistency, both in the quality of the food and the price.
Each lunch costs $US12, while dinner costs $US15. That fee includes tax, tip, and delivery.
They’re able to do that in part because they have limited the area where delivery will be available. As of today, Maple is only available in the Financial District — essentially Chambers Street and below — which means that anyone who orders a meal will hopefully be able to receive it in 30 minutes or less.
Maple’s engineering team has streamlined this process in a number of ways. They have built an ordering app for customers, an order management system for the kitchen workers, and a mapping app for the delivery team. They can know exactly how long it will take the delivery team to get to you, based on walking speed, traffic, and even how long it would take them to lock up their bike at any given location.
“All that information gets routed back to the system, and the system uses it to decide how to bundle orders together,” Navle said. “Over time, it builds better and better routes.”
At the moment, there are 30 full-time delivery workers, who are paid minimum wage and receive health benefits. Avoiding relying on contract workers was a priority for the executive team.
They have about 70 employees in total.
“We realised that there was an opportunity to create really meaningful, awesome jobs,” Merkl said. “It’s hard to do that when the person isn’t permanently connected with the company.”
Line cooks get benefits, too.
“These cooks tend to make so little in New York City. Most of these guys have never had health care or insurance, or even savings accounts for that matter,” Davies said. “One of the biggest things our business manager has done is help our immigrant cooks and dishwashers to open their first savings accounts so we can do direct deposit.”
Being able to provide restaurant-quality food without the cost of maintaining a restaurant is a major plus, too. Maple is currently only operating out of one distribution kitchen in the Financial District, but as they expand, they will open a network of kitchens that are connected to one main commissary.
“When you go to a restaurant now you’re half paying for the food and half renting real estate for the night, plus maintenance and ambience,” Merkl said. “We’re taking all that money we’re saving on real estate and pumping it back into actually being able to pay a minimum wage, pumping it back into the food.”
User demand will determine where in New York they will go next.
Maple raised $US22 million in Series A funding in March. Greenoaks Capital led the round, with contributions from Thrive Capital, Primary Ventures, Bonobos CEO Andy Dunn, and Chang. It had previously raised $US4 million in seed funding in November 2014.
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