On Sunday, March 16th, 2020: California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a #ShelterInPlace mandate for residents of 6 Bay Area counties, including San Francisco. Seeing Souvla, a popular, modern fast-fine Greek concept, shutter all of its locations in less than 48 hours, I knew we were in for a sea change in the hospitality and food industry.

Art by @rjrabe

We wanted to find a way to support beloved, independent restaurants — the likes of Namu, Pizzeria Delfina, Nopalito, Rintaro, Kin Khao, Mister Jiu’s, and more — immediately. Our aim was to help these and other local restaurants retain their teams and cover minimum operating costs, and weather the #ShelterInPlace mandate with a goal of being able to re-open their doors on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By the next day, we’d designed a program to help: Benne (formerly Delicious At Home).

The model is simple: By creating a network of 1–2 local grocers and bottle shops as “pick up” spots per central San Francisco neighborhood, at scale, we’re able to give participating restaurants more than 1,000 covers per meal time per day. This is an instrumental number in moving the needle. Many of these restaurants need 200–300 daily covers to break even.

Pete Lee for Mister Jiu’s

How it works: We send a weekly email outlining the participating pickup locations, restaurants, and meals. Individuals and families preorder the meal(s) for the day and time of day (lunch or dinner) that they prefer, and then pick up at the designated pickup spot. In addition to reducing points of contact, the pickup sites serve as an opportunity to swoop up groceries or a bottle of wine. Local, contactless neighborhood delivery is also an option for those participating retailers. At Douglas, the pilot program site, we offer delivery within a 5-block radius of the store.

Why we’re doing it: With this model, we’re able to help esteemed local restaurateurs like Brandon Jew (Mister Jiu’s, Mamahuhu) and Sylvan Mishima Brackett (Izakaya Rintaro) maintain at a minimum a skeleton-level of staff and cover monthly fixed costs. This in turn helps keep supplier relationships alive, many of which grow some of the region’s most diverse and high-quality staples. They’re also some of our favorite farmers, ranchers, and food producers: Brokaw, Dirty Girl, River Dog, Star Route, Eatwell, Liberty Farms. These stewards generate quality produce and products that showcase the terroir of the Bay Area and [in our opinion] are more micro-nutrient dense than mono-cropped, industrialized ag & animals, which helps especially in times of a global health pandemic.

Benne taps into one’s memories of what life was like before COVID-19. How it felt to eat a margherita pizza, cheese still oozing in the San Marzano tomato sauce as the pie made its way to the table just seconds after leaving the oven. The feeling of sitting at a table inside the airy, petite dining room of Pizzeria Delfina, adjacent to the bustling 18th Street corrider, swept up in the bustle and conviviality of the moment as the sun set over nearby Dolores Park.

By providing meals from some of our most nostalgic and treasured restaurants, we give locals a chance to re-live some of their favorite dining experiences, whether that’s the family-style whole roast duck from the dining room of Mister Jiu’s, the nourishing khao mun gai (chicken with rice and broth) from Kin Khao, or a casual meal of carnitas tacos from Nopalito. Or simply a meal kit from one of these restaurants to finish off at home. Either way, the [home] diner is able to tap into an emotional experience that provides a taste of the joys from previous meals and memories of days when s/he could dine out of the home with friends and loved ones.

With your help, collectively, we’re able to help these independent restaurants re-open on the other side of the #ShelterInPlace mandate. Furthermore, Benne can provide them with a meaningful additional revenue stream after the ‘new normal’ takes shape, while serving a current critical need to employ back-of-house restaurant staff and support local food supply systems.

As many know, restaurants operate on some of the slimmest margins of any industry. They’re also working with highly-perishable product, much of which is sourced from local farmers and producers, who also rely on the orders to continue to pay for growing their crops.

Many local restaurateurs in the best of times don’t like partnering with food delivery apps like UberEats, DoorDash and Caviar, because these apps charge upwards of 30% of each order, and chefs can’t control what their food looks like — or its temperature — when it reaches the customer’s door. Even when some of the city’s best restaurants are operating in the best of times, they’re lucky to be clearing a 15% profit, and that’s inclusive of alcohol BTG and bottle sales. To that point, at a micro-level, we’ve disrupted the third-party delivery space. We’re also on a mission to create opportunities advantageous to the operator, which beyond meal kits include private label pantry items.

Good news. You, too, can replicate and run this model in your metropolitan city:

  1. Identify restaurants that are still serving for takeout & curbside, and in need of additional revenue to pay their staff and bills.
  2. Identify small, independent grocers and/or wine shops that are open and have some fridge space available.
  3. Connect the logistical dots by collaborating with participating restaurants to identify an employee who’s available to deliver the meals to the retailer. They are the best brand steward in these times and know how to properly handle food for safety.
  4. Contact us if you’d like to see sample spreadsheets and resources to streamline this process.
  5. If you’d like to join our program, we can easily add your restaurant and/or shop to our [more robust] website once it’s built, which would have national capabilities.

With gratitude,
Maggie Spicer + Michael Molesky

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We’re here to help you eat great meals from great chefs at home. #eatbenne.

Every local, independent SF restaurant has been impacted by COVID-19. We want to minimize the burden. Every restaurant meal you purchase through @eatbenne helps your favorite restaurant retain their team, pay minimum operating costs, feed their families, and ultimately, re-open on the other side of #shelterinplace. You can also donate a meal to someone in need.

Restaurants can sign up for the program here. Small grocers & bottle shops can sign up here. For further information email us here. To view this week’s menu, head here. #eatdeliciousathome #eatbenne #toosmalltofail #saverestaurants

designer, strategist, cinnamon roll enthusiast who’s passionate about the guest experience and #onbrandbathrooms www.mfspicer.com

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