MexiCali Burrito Co., a, family-owned taqueria in Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was already well into catering when it signed up with Boston start-up Phoodeez (pronounced food-ies) to boost its corporate reach. Currently available in the greater Boston area, Phoodeez is an online catering service focused on building business for local independents. Its restaurant clients, says Christine Marcus, CEO, are carefully screened to ensure that food is of the highest quality, and that the eateries have the logistics to prepare and deliver food for large corporate events. Phoodeez, though, takes its mission one step further, leveraging its buying power to help clients get discounts that larger companies enjoy; it recently announced an agreement with First Data, which cut credit and debit card processing fees for the Phoodeez network.
Phoodeez is the brainchild of Marcus and Sal Lupoli, fellow classmates at MIT. Lupoli also owns and operates Sal’s Pizza and Salvatore’s Italian restaurants, a fact not lost on MexiCali Burrito owner Eric Quadrino, who cites Lupoli’s restaurant background as key.
Focused on corporate catering—breakfasts, lunches and conferences—Phoodeez’ tag line is “making event eating easy, delicious.” The concept was hatched in MIT’s Start-up Common program, Marcus noting that at MIT’s catered events the food wasn’t very good and much of it got tossed. Also, she says, while larger chains might promote their catering business, smaller independents don’t typically have a dedicated sales staff or an easy process for ordering.
Phoodeez, which makes it money by taking a “small” revenue share of each booked event, vets each of the 25 restaurants on its roster. “We try to find the best restaurants in terms of food and logistics, for each category,” says Marcus.
Phoodeez’ growth plan—it does hope to roll out to other cities—is of the slow and steady variety. It isn’t looking to sign up every restaurant in the Boston area. “We are very loyal to the restaurants,” says Marcus. “The agreement is that if there is a Japanese restaurant within a certain geographic area, we won’t bring in a competitor. It also depends on capacity; if the Japanese restaurant can’t do sushi for 500, if they reach capacity—after all, they are still running their restaurant—then we will add another in that geographic area.”
For MexiCali Burrito, known for its “quality of foods, seasonal menu and rotating drinks,” Phoodeez is a nice addition to its catering business, says Quadrino. While catering was a good part of his business, it was limited to smaller gatherings.
“It’s hard for independents,” Quadrino says. “Anyone will give you a chance to do a catering event for 10 people, but it is hard to get a large corporation to take a chance on you for a large event. They are more likely to go with a safe bet. “
A bridge to corporate catering
Phoodeez has created that bridge, says Quadrino. “With Phoodeez signing off on your food, and because you are on this exclusive list of vendors, corporations can accept that as a guarantee everything will be done completely right,” he says.
Since joining Phoodeez, MexiCali Burrito has seen a 15% bump in catering volume and is doing some “larger events with MIT;” business has evolved from catering strictly student gatherings to events in the administrative and professional academic arena.
The five-year-old restaurant, which offers catering clients a "make your own taco bar," also introduced a new product for this clientele, an “individually-boxed lunch that is very popular at these events,” says Quadrino. “
Ramping up the food presentation is a part of the service provided by Phoodeez, which ensures that nary a Styrofoam box is used to deliver the fare. “We use a beautifully packaged and labeled, environmentally friendly box,” says Marcus.
Corporate likes neat and clean; the most popular item ordered from the website is the “Japanese bento box,” says Marcus. “It’s a cool concept, a whole meal. People love it; it’s healthy, clean, it has everything you need and it offers a beautiful presentation.”