“Free food in the conference room” should be a phrase that brings joy to office workers.
But every office reaches its breaking point—where the prospect of one more soggy sandwich ring or lonely slice of cold pizza is revealed for the sad, fraudulent spectacle it really is.
After a 12-year career in finance on Wall Street, Ryan Spong got it.
“If you have to work through lunch, the food better be good,” he says. “Corporate catering is terrible. They have to try to be everything for everyone, and usually do it poorly.”
Spong’s company, Foodee, is starting to serve Pittsburgh this week. They’re taking aim at the complacent-yet-expensive corporate catering industry, not unlike the way Uber took on the taxicab business.
“We want to be the world’s biggest caterer, without owning a single kitchen,” says Spong.
After another stint as a restaurateur in his native Vancouver, Spong realized something about that business. Between breakfast and the lunch rush, and between lunch and happy hour, lies a great deal of nothing.
“There’s all this excess capacity in kitchens,” explains Spong.
If you can put those kitchens to work—say, preparing a few big orders for nearby office clients—you’re turning that nothing into something.
“We utilize the downtime in restaurants,” says Spong. “We do these big orders, $300-$5,000—we come in and give them a couple grand between 10:30 a.m. and noon.”
Ordering is done online. More than 400 restaurants have signed up for Foodee in 11 cities, from its headquarters in Vancouver to Philadelphia. They’ve made a conscious effort to avoid chains.
“We do it all with locally-owned restaurants,” says Spong. “We want to bring the food culture of a city into its office culture.”
In Pittsburgh, the options include Amazing Café, B52, Franktuary, Kickback Pinball Café, Josephine’s Toast (in Smallman Galley), Pho Van, Umami, Millie’s Shadyside Scoop Shop, City Fresh Pasta, Leona’s Ice Cream Sandwiches, Round Corner Cantina, and G&G Noodle Bar, so far.
“We don’t compete against Postmates and GrubHub,” says Spong. “It’s the corporate catering business that we want.”
Pittsburgh was chosen for a few simple reasons.
“The density of offices, a good food scene, and people sick of the status quo,” says Spong. “We see this movement back to the Rust Belt towns. Instead of spending $5 million to start a restaurant in Manhattan, you can have a beautifully-reclaimed heritage building for a fraction of that.”
Foodee is officially launching in Pittsburgh on Dec. 2 by offering 100 free lunches from Market Street Grocery in Market Square, Downtown. To get a free lunch, customers can sign up here.