Over the course of the pandemic, the true cost of the convenience of third-party delivery apps for restaurants and workers has entered the mainstream consciousness, leading many diners on a (mostly futile) quest to find an ethical, or at least more ethical, way to get their favorite restaurant food delivered without relying on the Giants of Delivery. One up-and-coming Bay Area company wants to do just that, and in the process hopes consumers will begin to rethink home food delivery altogether.
Locale is a company founded in Los Gatos in 2020 by two recent college graduates, Chris Clark, 23, and Jonathan Friedland, 24, both Los Gatos natives. It’s a Bay Area delivery marketplace, they say, offering specialty food items from the Bay’s favorite bakeries, farms, and restaurants — spots like Brenda’s French Soul Food, Bob’s Donuts, Wise Sons Deli, and Manresa Bread — delivered weekly, all in one box, for a flat $5 delivery fee.
The idea, like so many born in the last year and a half, was pandemic-inspired. When COVID hit, the high school friends were working and living in San Francisco; they both moved home to Los Gatos shortly after. There, Friedland says they kept noticing the line at Manresa Bread, the ever-popular spin-off bakery from Michelin-starred Manresa. The line itself was no surprise — there was almost always one at the bakery — but, “it seemed amplified by five during the pandemic,” Friedland says. “We started wondering, there are so many delivery services out there, why aren’t they on them?”
So they asked. The bakery explained that their business ran on mostly small-ticket items — the average purchase at a bakery is $10-15 per person, Friedland says. Those numbers just don’t make sense for fulfillment services, companies that typically charge by the hour or per unit. There were other issues, too: It’s difficult for bakeries to plan production with the unpredictable nature of daily delivery orders, oftentimes leading to shortages or waste. Finally, Friedland says, Manresa felt “every order from DoorDash or another app takes away from an in-person customer,” since every order has to be dealt with in the immediate.
Their idea, then, was to create a business model that was actually best for bakeries and restaurants — “and to rely on them to promote us organically,” Friedland says. Rather than charge businesses a delivery fee, Locale pays wholesale prices for items, and charges a slight markup to customers. Customers can order all week for Saturday delivery; the businesses then have advance knowledge of the week’s orders and can prepare for one pickup from a delivery person, rather thana pickups happening on continual basis. Drivers are paid per mile, and receive a flat rate for completing the route — routes that are sketched out by Friday, meaning drivers go into it knowing what they’re going to make. “Because everything is happening on one day, the routes are really optimized,” Friedland says. “Oftentimes a driver will be able to make 14 or 15 deliveries in an hour and a half. And there’s no waiting time for the driver at the restaurant, so it’s efficient. If they have to drive 100 miles for a delivery, they’re getting paid for that distance.”
They started with Manresa and a few Los Gatos produce purveyors, offering customers the ability to bundle produce and bread for a weekly $5 delivery. Clark and Friedland handled all the deliveries themselves to start, gradually adding more businesses (and therefore more options for customers to fill their boxes) while the delivery fee stayed the same. “It took off pretty naturally, really. Once we added more businesses, it became a lot more valuable to our customer base.”
Their first expansion was to Santa Cruz — before they even had any local businesses on board there, they had demand. “We started sending drivers to the East Bay, Santa Cruz, and the Peninsula. We were reaching customers these businesses couldn’t reach any other way,” Friedland says. They took their expansion region by region, ensuring that the businesses they worked with would have time to prepare for increased capacity. “San Francisco was the biggest one, so we saved it for last.”
Locale starts delivering in San Francisco on October 12; residents can shop from more than 80 Bay Area bakeries, restaurants, and farms. While the criteria for businesses on Locale is straightforward — they must be based within the greater Bay Area — the actual selections are more nuanced, Friedland says. “It’s all about the favorite spots, the people who are the best of the best at their craft. Every product has been vetted by one of us, or someone else on the team before we bring them on board.” It’s sort of an “if you know you know” approach — Friedland calls Brenda’s a good example of an in-the-know spot with a cult following.
Obviously, once-a-week deliveries don’t replace on-demand meal delivery from third-party delivery apps. But Friedland says he’s noticed something with their customers. “They’re really willing to sacrifice convenience, for a few reasons,” he says. “It’s cheaper, there are no shady tipping schemes, and no hidden fees. Tipping is entirely optional.” Some customers have told him the weekly delivery helps them meal-plan, thus eliminating the need for on-demand meal delivery. Ultimately, Locale hopes as more people become accustomed to their approach to getting their favorite restaurant food at home, the concept of food delivery could shift away from being one of immediacy.
One thing is sure, they aren’t looking to compete with the Giants. “We’re sticking to the Bay Area,” Friedland says. “This is our home, and we just want to make shopping local here as easy as possible.”