Eat Club hits the road to feed hungry office workers

By Richard Nieva , written on May 22, 2013

From The News Desk

There's a new technology-driven (and actually driven) food service coming to San Francisco.

It's the Eat Bus, the newest launch from the Palo Alto-based food delivery startup Eat Club. The company announced the new service today, wherein the bus parks at a different San Francisco location every day, filled with food from a different restaurant handpicked daily, like Bar Tartine in the Mission or Nopalito in the Lower Haight.

Customers (namely hungry office workers on their lunch break) order by smartphone from a menu filled with three entrees: chicken, beef, or veggie – kind of like the digital version of a wedding invitation response card. Prices range from $8 to $12, and right now the service is invite only, but there's a wait list.

Customers then come get the order at the pickup location, designated each morning. The bus will be parking in the Financial District and SOMA to start, says cofounder Rodrigo Santibanez. The idea is to bring food from different parts of town to workers who don’t have the time to physically go there and wait in line while on lunch. The service differs from normal food trucks and other food-ordering apps, because it is more of a distribution method for well-known restaurants who don't deliver (or take too long to deliver).

The bus launch is the literally mobile version of the company’s original service, started in 2010 in the South Bay. That service lets users order from a menu before 10:30 am, and delivers it to your office by noon.

The company offered to park outside my office for a demo. And since my office is my living room, that’s where they went. A little after 2 pm the other day, about a half hour before our appointment, I heard a faint rumbling outside my window and a small chorus of voices. My neighbors had come out of their houses buzzing about the big orange bus that had infiltrated our San Francisco street. When they started milling around out of curiosity, Eat Club gave them free lunches. I tell Santibanez that was generous. “Well, we were blocking their driveways,” he says.

Food startups have been buzzy lately, gaining traction among investors. The company has raised $6.5 million in venture capital from firms including August Capital and First Round Capital. (Note: First Round’s Josh Kopelman is a personal investor in PandoDaily). And using the smartphone to cut out wait time isn’t new. It’s like Jonathan Kaplan’s The Melt, a grilled cheese sandwich chain in the Bay Area, which also lets customers order via smartphone so the food is ready when you arrive.

The bus service needs to scale to become really useful. Right now, the company only owns one bus, meaning it’s just the luck of the draw if it happens to be in your neighborhood that day, so multiple pickup points will be key. Santibanez says the company will be adding to the bus fleet “very soon.”

But there are also some advantages to having wheels. Santibanez says he’d be open to taking requests from companies in the city to park at their headquarters, so their employees would only have to walk a few steps instead of a few blocks to a more centralized location.

Unfortunately for my neighbors, house calls are probably not on the roadmap.