“We’ve experienced an almost decade-long wave of innovation fueled by technology across all industries,” says Caleb Merkl, co-founder and CEO of Maple, a branded commissary that only serves its food via on-demand delivery. “We’re now starting to see this same wave of innovation take shape across the food landscape.”
Unlike brick-and-mortar restaurants, many of which are scrambling to add delivery to keep up with consumers’ demand for it, nonrestaurant restaurants are created solely with delivery in mind—from the menu and packaging to the infrastructure and technology. While several, such as Sprig, Maple and Munchery are expanding in urban areas, it’s too soon to tell yet if their growth will be invasive to conventional restaurants.
“The business model is still unproven,” Sprig CEO Gagan Biyani admitted to Restaurant Business last year. “There’s no reason to believe this will or won’t work. As internet entrepreneurs, we bet on things that have a 10 to 20 percent chance of succeeding, but if they do, there’s a big opportunity to make an impact,” he said.
In fact, most of these concepts are conceived by tech innovators, not restaurateurs. But some folks in the restaurant industry believe in the idea: David Chang is an investor and has been chief culinary officer for Maple, former White House chef Sam Kass invested in Sprig, and other chefs such as Roy Choi and Stephanie Izard have partnered with similar delivery-only concepts to create limited-time menus. It doesn’t hurt that private-equity firms and other big-name backers are pouring in millions of dollars, either.
Another advantage nonrestaurant restaurants have: “We get enormous leverage out of our locations,” says Merkl. He estimates that a Maple kitchen (there now are four) covers the same area as five to 10 traditional New York City restaurants—only without the need for the high-traffic (read: high-rent) real estate. Its locations produce more volume and spend less per build, because it’s all kitchens, he says.
It’s not all pluses, however. As Sprig’s Biyani told RB, it’s not easy for an internet entrepreneur to tackle restaurants. He’s learned that answers aren’t always Googleable.
For Merkl, “We have very few touch points with the customer—we lose the benefit of ambiance and the art of plating.” To combat that, Merkl and Biyani both put a lot of effort into creating simple, intuitive apps and ordering experiences for customers. Indeed, Biyani says its where most of Sprig’s funding goes. As for Maple, Merkl says it puts a lot of emphasis on hiring and training its delivery drivers. “They are the most tangible human touch point with our customers.”
30 = Maximum number of minutes Maple promises it takes for food to be delivered
Chef and restaurateur David Chang, the Momofuku founder and Maple investor, is launching the venture with Expa, a startup lab by Uber co-founder Garrett Camp. Named after instant-ramen creator Momofuku Ando, it will start serving this spring, Chang told Fast Company.
Customers will order their meals via a smartphone app developed by Expa. UberRush will handle the actual food drop-offs.
To start, Ando will deliver to the Midtown East area of New York City. Pricing and exact menu details are not yet available. But users can expect a mix of Asian and Americana flavors as well as exclusive cookies from Chang’s Momofuku Milk Bar.