May 5, 2021
Innovation in action: Independent restaurants find clever ways to generate new sources of revenue
By Joanna Fantozzi for Restaurant Hospitality
Deliver to food lockers
When dining rooms were closed because of the pandemic, Boston restaurant operators Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette of JK Food Group came up with a solution to bring their tapas and pizzas to customers without resorting to third-party delivery: food lockers in apartment buildings.
Partnering with foodservice solutions company Alchemista, JK Food Group delivers their food to customers via temperature-controlled, self-sanitizing food lockers in luxury apartment buildings throughout Boston. Inspired by the ease of a vending machine, they allow customers to place orders for meals from tapas restaurant Toro and Italian small plates restaurant Coppa via the Alchemista app and then pick them up whenever they want to from the food locker in their apartment building lobby using a unique QR code.
“Alchemista gave us the opportunity to reach our bread-and-butter guests and to not have to pay delivery fees which are exorbitant,” Oringer said. “We were trying to figure out the best way to reach customers without sacrificing quality.”
Alchemista employees take care of picking up the meals (20-40 per lunch or dinner shift) and filling the temperature-controlled, sanitizing UV-lit glass cubbies in the lobbies of participating apartment buildings. As of March, the service was available in 10 apartment buildings, with partnerships with more buildings and participating restaurants in other cities like New York and Washington, D.C. on the horizon.
Right now, Toro has curated a simplified version of their menu — which changes on a weekly basis — with just a few dishes available for the Alchemista lockers. They also had to tweak their usual tapas-sized offerings to make for full to-go meals. They came up with the idea of creating a bento-box-like offering, like one with braised short rib, patatas bravas, and their house-special corn.
“One popular dish I love is our wild mushroom risotto, but if risotto sits for a period of time it will get gummy and starchy,” Oringer said. “But these lockers can hold it at ambient temperature and it stays creamy without becoming gloppy. The risotto tastes like it came right out of the kitchen. It’s cool that we were able to adapt that.”
Bissonnette said the cost for customers is about the same as they’d pay in the restaurant, about $20-$25 per entrée.
“[Alchemista buys] it from us and marks it up appropriately,” Bissonnette said. “We know it’s not as much of a moneymaker but it’s a cool opportunity. Hopefully the partnership will get bigger and we’ll have even more of a reach.”
— Joanna Fantozzi