CITYWIDE — Tired of ordering the same food day in and day out for office lunches or meetings?
Ordering large amounts of meals online just got easier, thanks to a company that does all the work for you.
Chewse, which started in 2011 in a USC dorm room, officially launched in Santa Monica earlier this week, connecting local restaurants with clients to provide a wide array of cuisines.
The aim of the food ordering service is to streamline catering for client meetings or celebrations and to provide smaller restaurants without the resources or infrastructure a means to expand their business model by tapping into typically large corporate accounts, Tracy Lawrence, CEO and co-founder, said. The other co-founder is Jeff Schenck.
Caterers in the U.S. are expected to make $8 billion in revenue, according to a May 2013 report from IBISWorld, a provider of industry data in the U.S. The report said 11,036 businesses nationwide are involved in some form of catering.
“We work with a restaurant network that makes us a lot more like a marketplace,” Lawrence said. “Like an Airbnb for food. Anyone who works with us gets access to our network of restaurants.”
She said it was important to “curate food” and curate the best restaurants. The cuisine ranges from sandwiches and salads to Mediterranean, which is budget friendly and healthy, Lawrence said.
The name of the company, Chewse, comes from a “double entendre” of chewing on food and being able to chew on the best food. It also is a play on a nickname Lawrence earned as a kid.
“I’m half Chinese and half Jewish and when I was younger, my friends called me ‘chewish,’” she said.
Since its launch in 2011 in downtown Los Angeles, 30,000 meals have been delivered. The heart of the business is in Santa Monica, where Lawrence lives, but there is an engineering team based in San Francisco.
For its launch, Chewse partnered with 40 restaurants in Santa Monica, including California Chicken Cafe, and Greens Up!, and counts more than 100 restaurant partners across Los Angeles County. She said Chewse has serviced more than 50 companies in the county and so far this month has received 30 orders.
Clients pay for the cost of the meal as if they were going directly to the restaurant, she said. The prices range from $7 to $20 per person depending on the company and client budgets.
She said Chewse gets a 10 to 15 percent commission of the total order, but gratuity and tax go straight to the restaurant. It’s free for restaurants to join the service. Clients can go to the website, www.chewse.com, to sign up and request a free tasting.
Chewse is achieving a lot of “goals,” Jennifer Taylor, economic development administrator with City Hall, said.
“It’s a huge untapped market in matching more restaurants with larger employers in the city,” Taylor, who is also chair of the Buy Local Santa Monica campaign, said. The campaign encourages Santa Monicans to support local businesses and keep tax dollars in town.
There were approximately 9,154 businesses in Santa Monica as of Wednesday, according to a quarterly labor report City Hall received from the state, Taylor said. Those businesses employ 81, 246 people who have an annual average payroll of $1.6 billion. So there’s plenty of money that can go towards people eating out.
She said Chewse helps connect businesses with one another and keep dollars in the city. A company like Chewse can also mitigate traffic congestion, she said.
“There’s a lot of concern in our community from residents from congestion and having one trip by bike to deliver and feed 30 to 40 people that eliminates traffic off the road,” Taylor said.
TaskUs, located near the Santa Monica Airport, is one company that’s used Chewse for the past six or seven months. TaskUs is an outsourcing company that works with Internet businesses.
Taleen Askejian, executive assistant and office manager for TaskUs, said Chewse caters “specifically to the life of an office manager.” She said the company’s customer service answers any concerns or questions she may have when it comes to ordering or picking a restaurant.
The company typically orders once a month from Chewse for team meetings, and recently catered breakfast this week to celebrate its staff being back in the Santa Monica office after traveling to the Philippines office, she said.
“[W]hen I’ve gone on [traditional catering websites] sometimes there’s too much selection and sometimes I find the chain restaurants,” Askejian said. “I like the fact there are restaurants that I didn’t know cater until I saw them on the website. Like I didn’t know Curious Palate catered.”
The Curious Palate was approached last month by Chewse to be part of the restaurant network, Mark Cannon, one of the restaurant owners, said.
The restaurant will cater sandwiches with sides and entrees in prices ranging from $11 to $15.
“This one seems to make sense and they seem to have experience reaching out to larger companies. You can slide them right into the marketing line item we don’t use right now,” Cannon said. “It seems like they have a pretty good sales force out there and their price is right for us and we’re going to give them a chance.”
For Lawrence, the idea for the food ordering service stemmed from when someone asked her to help order a catered lunch for an office of 30 employees.
“It was a lot harder than I thought,” Lawrence, who spent less than $10,000 to launch the business, said.
Chewse plans to expand later this year into places like Pasadena, LAX, Marina del Rey, and next year possibly in San Francisco, San Diego and Texas.
“We help bolster great restaurants,” Lawrence said.
For more information, visit www.chewse.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to request a free tasting for lunch.