When lunchtime rolled around at Orazio Buzza’s former office at Echo Global Logistics in Chicago, he realized there was never enough time in the day – or enough nearby lunch spots – to grab a tasty meal to-go.
The company, where Buzza was president, had a “trading-floor mentality with not a lot of time to get food,” he explained.
On top of that, his employees were fed up and bored with the food options available to them on the job. This lunch time predicament — of which we are all too familiar with ourselves — is what inspired Buzza’s great idea: Getting local restaurants to come into the office and sell their food directly in the workplace.
“We realized this is a problem that all companies have,” Buzza explained. “Whether companies are providing meals for employees or people are running out to grab lunch themselves, everyone always gets tired of the nearby options.”
Seven years later, Buzza’s idea has transpired into a wildly successful startup dubbed Fooda. The Chicago-based virtual office cafeteria, co-founded by Buzza and Vip Sandhir in 2011, is bringing the best local restaurants to the inside of busy workplaces as a solution to employees’ monotonous lunch routines.
Since its launch, Fooda has raised $12.8 million in funding and has expanded its virtual cafeteria to offices in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Atlanta and, as of this past May, Boston. With just a few months under their belt here in the Hub, Fooda is already working with a multitude of restaurants and businesses.
Here’s how it works: Fooda offers three options for employees, including pop-up lunches, corporate catering and Fooda Select, an on-demand meal delivery service (currently only available in Chicago). Fooda’s unique and well-curated pop-up lunch service, however, is what makes the company stand out in a market already saturated with food delivery options.
Once a company signs up for Fooda’s pop-up services, the startup finds local restaurants, which have been vetted and approved by Fooda employees, to come into the office, set up shop and sell their food.
“We are growing our restaurant partners daily,” said Brenda Dean, business development manager of Fooda’s Boston office. She also notes that all of the company’s restaurant partners are taste tested and reviewed regularly. Currently, Fooda’s restaurant partners in Boston include Bread & Butter, Panificio, Sam LeGrassa’s, Tossed, Freshii, Pita, El Pelon, Bailey & Sage, Bytes, UMAI, Chicken & Rice Guys, KO Pies, Curry House, Momogoose, WOW BBQ and VIGA.
To get a sense for what Fooda’s pop-up lunch service is really like, I headed over to the Seaport’s EnerNOC (pictured below) just last week to check it out for myself. It was clear from the always-busy line of hungry employees that Fooda had officially found and filled a real need for a more convenient, high-quality lunch hour.
In addition to EnerNOC, Dean also shares that Fooda has partnered with several other Boston companies thus far, including Microsoft, Life is Good, American Tower, WeWork, Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston, and Wayfair.
In addition to benefitting company employees, Fooda’s COO Jason Stulberg claimed that the virtual cafeteria startup is a win for restaurant owners, as well. Local restaurants are able to do a busy, profitable lunch service for a flat fee of $100 to $300 per service.
And, for those U.S. markets who haven’t yet experienced Fooda’s virtual cafeteria, Stulberg insisted that the company is continuing to grow. So far, Fooda has launched in six markets and “plans to accelerate its expansion efforts” in the future.
In the meantime, Fooda will continue to “preserve the sanctity of the lunch hour” – as they say – in Boston and beyond.
Images courtesy of Fooda; Author