Customers dine at Momofuku’s outdoor seating in the East Village as the city resumes Phase 4 of its reopening after restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus were imposed in New York City on September 26, 2020.
Alexi Rosenfeld | Getty Images
Goldbelly is adding Chef David Chang’s Momofuku chain to its national delivery service as the coronavirus pandemic drives customers and restaurants to the e-commerce website in droves.
CEO Joe Ariel founded Goldbelly in 2013 when he was living in New York and couldn’t find a local restaurant that craved Nashville, Tennessee, hot chicken or Mediterranean-style biscuits. More than $ 33 million has been raised since then, and the final round in 2018 was led by Danny Meyer’s Enlightened Hospitality Investments.
Before the pandemic, Goldbelly kept adding restaurants to the platform. But when lockdowns were introduced in the United States, restaurants that had previously avoided delivery services and take-out had to spin.
Like DoorDash and Grubhub, Goldbelly is one of the beneficiaries of the abrupt change in behavior. This year, the number of restaurants and customers on its website has almost doubled. Companies like Shake Shack, the burger chain founded by Meyer, join their ranks. Including Momofuku, the company has nearly 700 restaurants listed on its marketplace.
“A lot of partners who were interested but a little reluctant have now made it their business to give the platform a chance and tell us they can’t believe they didn’t do it sooner,” said Ariel.
“Sauce seals” hunt according to regional demands
However, Goldbelly also has some key differences from the third-party delivery apps that work with local restaurants. It ships groceries all over the country instead of being tied to a two or three mile radius. Restaurants have the freedom to fulfill their orders during rest periods such as the afternoon or at midnight, when the kitchen is closed to customers for take-away and delivery.
And it’s the restaurants rather than Goldbelly that are responsible for making and shipping their groceries. The business model means that Goldbelly is profitable, according to Ariel.
However, restaurants also benefit from joining the e-commerce website. Ariel said some restaurants on Goldbelly are seeing higher sales volumes than their pre-pandemic dining rooms.
The crisis brought another facet to the Goldbelly experience: live cooking classes with famous chefs like Daniel Boulud. The courses are free with the purchase of the appropriate meal set.
Goldbelly uses a team of Boy Scouts, known internally as “Sauce Seals,” to scour the country and social media for restaurants that are loved by their customers or offer unique local specialties. The restaurants on the platform range from nationally known establishments to mom and pop restaurants.
Goldbelly Founder and CEO Joe Ariel
The company also works with the restaurants to determine the price that the consumer will pay. This ultimately includes the platform’s transaction fees and the high cost of shipping the groceries overnight anywhere in the country. The food can be frozen, pre-assembled or delivered as part of a meal set for easy preparation.
A more common treatment
Ultimately, the New York bagels or Philadelphia cheesesteaks cost more than if a customer had bought them in person. However, the service is aimed at consumers who are far from the comfort foods they want to eat. And as the current crisis is restricting travel and pulling some consumers to the suburbs, they are ready to pay the premium price. The service has also been switched from being used for special occasions to something that is searched for more often.
“As the world has changed, it has become a lot more of a weekly and monthly event,” said Ariel.
Usually, the fourth quarter is the busiest time of year for Goldbelly, thanks to the holidays, according to Ariel. The Thanksgiving approach means an influx of orders for cakes, side dishes, and turduckens.
“This year it’s going to be a different level because people aren’t traveling to see their families,” said Ariel.
Goldbelly customers purchase multiple items to ship to different people and create their own virtual Thanksgiving dinner through Zoom. Corporate employers want to offer Goldbelly’s meal sets and virtual cooking classes to their employees and customers in lieu of in-person office parties.
Of course, the pandemic also presents Goldbelly with new challenges. Vaccine manufacturers are concerned about possible delays in adoption due to a dry ice shortage. Goldbelly’s distributors use the solid form of carbon dioxide to ship some of their items such as ice cream across the country overnight.
Goldbelly has an entire department devoted to brainstorming how to keep food frozen – or at least cold – before it gets to customers.
“It’s something we keep our eyes peeled for, but we have a few different approaches to attack that before it becomes more of a problem,” said Ariel, adding that the majority of Goldbelly orders don’t use dry ice .
For Goldbelly and the rest of the world, a vaccine also means a return to travel, dining, and all the other opportunities that were abandoned during the pandemic. However, Ariel believes consumers will continue to order from Goldbelly as often as they do now.
“We believe having nationwide delivery of your favorite foods will continue to be a value proposition that is really exciting to many people, especially those who have experienced it and made a deeper emotional connection with our brand and platform during that time.” Said Ariel.