Does food delivery need to be disrupted?
Can technology make it possible for busy families to eat healthy, affordable meals? Some people think so.
Anson Tsui and Steven Hsiao are a couple of smarty-pants Cal grads, already known as the kings of late-night food delivery for UC Berkeley.
After graduating in 2009, they started what can only be described as an empire of “late night stoner food delivery” businesses. Under the Late Night Option umbrella, Pho Me Now, and later Munchy Munchy Hippos (deep-fried twinkies and bacon-wrapped hotdogs, nuff said) and Burrito Supreme delivered greasy junk food to UC students in the wee hours for four happy years.
But Peter Pans sometimes grow up, and the Late Night Option dream is over. Tsui and Hsiao have suspended operations to focus on Spoonrocket, their home food delivery service for twenty-something tech guys. Just kidding, Spoonrocket is intended to be a healthier fast meal solution for everybody, not just single geek guys whose tummies can’t tolerate fried junk anymore.
This past weekend T324’s owner David Daniels tried Spoonrocket.
“It was good, fast, and not expensive. Too bad they don’t yet deliver to Albany.”
Spoonrocket is coming to Oakland, where I live, on Nov. 1.
After that, I will no longer be subject to the tedious labor of putting microwaveable dinners delivered by Instacart into the microwave for my boyfriend.
There’s a great article about the “artisanal fast food” concept here on HuffPost. It contains this marvelous quote that explains why people like me, who grew up on whole, nutritious foods, don’t eat drive-thru.
“For those millions who would rather starve than bite into a Bonus Jack, “fast food” does not exist. Their brains are wired to block it out. Place them, desperately hungry, on a street dotted with Taco Bells and Burger Kings and they will wander, arms flailing, until they starve to death.”
Eating whole, nutritious foods as a choice can be the experience of privilege, but it can also be the experience of people whose families have always grown their own food.
I have some of both; I grew up in Chelsea when it was a poor Puerto Rican neighborhood, and we often had takeout black beans and rice with chorizo from the Cuban-Chinese diner for dinner. It was cheap as hell, but so delicious. My father grew cherry tomatoes on our fire escape. We had a garden every summer at our decrepit summer house in Maine, bought lobsters off the pier, and canned jams from our blackberry patch. It was ’70s Back to the Earth stuff, but it was also the frugality of a Midwest Depression baby father and a mother who’d been born in Scotland during WWII, where her mum used to lock the kids out in the garden when she left the house so they wouldn’t get into the sugar jar.
The purported mission of Spoonrocket is to change people who consider fast food to be food into people like me without crippling them financially or adding to their overclocked lives. It seems honorable and based on the adoption around here, it may be possible in some areas. Of course, around here it’s being adopted by people who eat arugula on the regular, not fast food junkies. To balance that, there’s a philanthropic component: “Through World Food Program USA, we donate one nutritious meal to a child in need with every meal you purchase. We just don’t think anyone should ever go hungry.”
Will it scale?
Spoonrocket, since it uses it own kitchen (just one so far) to prepare foods and its own trucks to deliver, faces some of the exposure to infrastructure cost risk that doomed Webvan.
And their stated goal of buying local and organic as much as possible could become a commodities logistics nightmare in areas not so well-supplied with nearby organic farms and organic produce delivery services. Sadly, our intel indicates the noble experiment is already devolving.
T324’s Senior Project Manager Brian Nowell, a Cal grad who came up on Late Night Option but also knows his fine foods, was an early Spoonrocket adopter and evangelist.
It was everything he loved, and his household ordered five nights a week. But after a flurry of pushback on review sites about portion size, Brian started to get Spoonrocket emails with polls. “Do you want bigger portions?” “Do you want more home-style meals or more artisanal meals?”
Fast social metrics mean fast pivots, and Spoonrocket published poll results showing the landslide victory of big American meals and pivoted.
Spoonrocket hit profitability in August. So the food is getting dumbed down and carbed up. “It’s just mac and cheese and ribs now”, Brian said sadly, “I’ve completely stopped ordering from them.” David’s picture shows mac and cheese and ribs, as it happens. Lucky for me, my boyfriend loves homestyle American food. I’m deeply sad I won’t be able to get an order of goat-cheese stuffed squash blossoms at the same time, though.
And as an aside: why is it always why Y-Combinator? I’d like the next necessary tech lifestyle upgrade I become hooked on to be backed by some other incubator, cause YC has too many tentacles in my life. My bf works for a YC-backed startup, and YC keeps backing these companies that are a perfect fit to add quality of life to our geek household. Like Instacart. Yet as a company, YC is a little gross, a bunch of privileged bros sitting pretty on the Peninsula, funding projects that will make their privileged, comfortable lives even more so. And funding their first non-profit doesn’t make it all better.
this post originally appeared on the T324 blog.