Caviar, which launched in the East Bay last week, is an obvious idea that many locals will be wishing had arrived years ago.
The startup which is run by four UC Berkeley graduates just two years out of school, allows you to order up dishes from your favorite restaurants for delivery within an hour of placing your call.
The twist is that Caviar, which already operates in San Francisco, DC, Chicago, Manhattan and Seattle, is contracting with restaurants that don’t ordinarily do delivery. So far, the service has signed up 16 East Bay spots — including Plum Bar, La Mediterranée, Binh Minh Quan, Hawker Faire, A16 Rockridge, Hopscotch, Phil’s Sliders, Ajanta, and Desco — and many more will be coming online soon, at a rate of one a week, such as Homeroom and Ike’s Lair.
For Jason Wang and his three co-founders, Andy Zhang, Richard Din, and Shawn Tsao — all self-confessed foodies who bonded while living in the same Cal frat house — the driving idea for the company was efficiency.
“It’s a problem for a lot of people to stand in line for an hour waiting for a table at a restaurant they like,” he said, citing as an example families with young children.
The four entrepreneurs — two business and two computer science majors — were deeply into the local food scene while still in college. Wang, with a friend, runs a blog, City Foodsters, that documents their culinary experiences around the world, be it sampling Per Se in New York or Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo.
“We really turned a hobby into a business,” he said.
The company works with 150 drivers in the Bay Area who use thermal bags to keep dishes at the correct temperature. A proprietary Caviar app allows customers to track their orders, and they guarantee delivery within an hour. Caviar takes a 25% cut on each sale.
Caviar appears to be on a roll. It recently raised $15 million in funding, and Wang said they are pulling in eight-figure annual revenues on the basis on “tens of thousands of customers.”
There is competition, of course. Seamless is probably the dominant name in the market, and there’s been a flurry of similar startups in the sector, including Munchery, and Postmates. Most of these services work with restaurants that already deliver, however. And, for the East Bay at least, if not for New York, Caviar is a step ahead. Until now, having dinner or a catered lunch delivered from many of the restaurants on its roster was near-on impossible.
Another point of difference from, say, Seamless, is that Caviar has a professional photographer take a shot of every dish offered on its site. Most services simply offer a text menu.
The proof is in the pudding, of course.
Nathan Johnson, Director of Operations for A16 and A16 Rockridge, which both use Caviar, said he has been impressed so far with the service, but that he will be quick to sever ties at the first sign of customer dissatisfaction.
“We want to be sure the quality of the food we offer for delivery is as high as that we serve in the restaurant,” he said.
For that reason, the restaurant offers a carefully curated selection of dishes that its chefs are confident will travel. And they take steps — like having salad dressings on the side — to ensure there’s no degradation, Johnson said.
Johnson added that orchestrating a delivery service on its own would not be cost efficient for A16, which is why partnering with Caviar made sense.
Wang concurs. “Most restaurants would lose money if they tried to do this themselves,” he said. “They would need two drivers and would likely find they couldn’t fulfill the orders they get and would be turning down business.”
Caviar offers on-demand or scheduled (up to a week in advance) deliveries for homes and offices. There’s a flat-rate delivery fee of $9.99 and no minimum order. Right now, in its launch phase for the East Bay all deliveries are FREE until May 25.
Hail all foodies! Nosh will soon launch Nosh Weekly, a free weekly email that will keep you bang up-to-date on all the delicious food, drink and restaurant news in the East Bay. Want to be one of the first to receive it? Simply sign up here.