Sarah Van Dell would say that her company is in a new phase of growth — what she calls, “Plum Relish 2.0.”
Previously, Plum Relish was a lunch delivery service catering to offices, with each meal prepared at their in-house kitchen. They also offered a subscription service. Now, the lunch delivery company is adding on to its offerings with a plan to bring their subscription-based delivery service to local restaurant chains in the next few months.
Add that to the hiring of a new vice president of product, Paul Ballas, and director of engineering, Juston Davies, and the creation of an all-women board of advisors group, and you have “Plum Relish 2.0.”
“Timing is everything. I think it was this confluence of quite a few things,” Van Dell told DC Inno. “We felt like we had to build what our product is — which involves offline to online — in a much more difficult way than your typical tech company. I think we’ve learned a lot from the food companies that had high tech ambitions and just failed.”
Founded in 2015, Plum Relish has always strived to be different from the on-demand food delivery market. Instead of catering to consumers who are looking to have whatever their craving delivered to them at a moment’s notice, the startup caters to the meal-prepping consumer who wants better lunch choices.
So it made sense when Van Dell started to hear from some of her clients that, although they enjoy Plum Relish’s offerings, they wish they had more options. What if the restaurant down the street could just have their favorite meal ready to go every Tuesday at 1 PM?
Plum Relish is hoping to do just that with the new offerings and partnerships. Van Dell said the partnerships are designed so that you don’t even know Plum Relish is in the mix. Restaurants will use Plum Relish’s platform to set up their delivery and subscription models, and the two parties will set up a revenue sharing model.
“Since we know that clients are ordering from different restaurants, why not collude with those other restaurants,” Van Dell said. “They’re all feeling these changes, and you can see it coming. Retail malls have told this story, the writing is on the wall and something needs to change.”
“People are never going to drive away from chef-driven food, and there will always be a place for good food and good experiences.”
With a change in business model, of course, comes a change in staffing and in the make-up of the board of advisors. Van Dell said she’s always strived to set up Plum Relish so it’s more inclusive than the rest of the tech and startup world. “Starting a company, everyone gives a lot of feedback and most of it is not fantastic,” Van Dell said. “(The new advisors are) willing to go above and beyond to get their skin in the game. They have distinct backgrounds.”
“You have to find people who don’t fit that model in tech right now of the white male. Part of my mission in building this company is to be more inclusive, and part of that is getting more women involved.”
The new board of advisors includes: Amanda Ruisi, founder and president of AKR Public Relations; Ellen Kim, vice president of restaurant and hospitality practice at Alix Partners; Irene Chang-Britt, independent board director for Dunkin’ Brands and Tailored Brands; Jackie McCauley Ford, CFO of America’s Test Kitchen; and Stephanie Seibert Smith, managing director at MOJO PSG.
Van Dell said a lot of the advisors and the company’s two prominent new hires are people who have been involved in building Plum Relish from the beginning They’re the people she would call when she was stuck or needed advice on growth and development. Now, they just have more solidified roles.
On top of the new restaurant service, board of advisors and new hires, Plum Relish is also en route to secure funding through Washington, D.C.’s Department of Securities, Investments and Banking. Van Dell said the company has been working with Commissioner Stephen Taylor and his team to secure a $350,000 dollar-for-dollar investment match as Plum Relish prepares to raise other capital.
Van Dell also said the currently bootstrapped company has a stable base of customers and sales, and they’re close to becoming profitable.
“I call us a little duck,” Van Dell said. “We’re doing a lot of steps underneath the surface. We know our business well, and we’ve have an excellent set of clients who have used us.”
It’s hard to think about what else Plum Relish has in store when it’s pivoting and managing a lot of moving pieces right now. However, Van Dell said the company is gearing up with a new site and app redesign, the announcement of their first two restaurant partners in the fall and, if everything goes as planned, Plum Relish could have a blueprint of what an expansion into a new city would look like for them by the end of the year.
“I’m excited about getting better food to people in D.C. who work really hard,” Van Dell said. “We fail so hard (at lunch), and it’s time to change that.”
Image: Jai Williams for Plum Relish