Founded in late 2010 by Zach Yungst and Alex Lorton, Cater2.me got off to a running start in San Francisco feeding the likes of Yelp, Dropbox and Square, and now they have their sights set on New York. Cater2.me is an office catering service, connecting companies with a carefully selected list of food trucks, mom and pop restaurants, caterers and local chefs.
I recently got a chance to speak with Yungst about how Cater2.me has differentiated themselves from competitors like Seamless and ZeroCater, how they are planning to approach the NY market differently than their San Francisco stomping grounds…and of course who they have their eye in the New York food scene.
Chitra Agrawal: What problem is Cater2Me solving?
Zach Yungst: At Cater2.me, we want to make office meals exciting, and the process around ordering meals excitingly simple. Managing team catering is currently a very tedious, often stressful, recurring process, and we’re building a solution to greatly simplify the way group ordering works while also making team meals more of a cultural food experience by sourcing from unique, local, passionate chefs.
CA: How does it work from a client and vendor standpoint?
ZY: For clients, the process to get started takes under 5 minutes. A client fills out a simple profile detailing information such as headcount, budget, dietary preferences, delivery logistics, etc., and we use that information to create a tailored meal schedule that complies with the client’s requirements. We handle all communication and logistics with the vendors, track all deliveries, and provide a forum for all employees to access their meals and provide feedback, which we incorporate into future planning.
On the vendor side, we scour food blogs and reviews and go to trusted experts for referrals before we approach a vendor about joining our program. We found our first food partners at farmers markets and food festivals, and that’s really defined how we source our vendors. Since we’re more focused on finding passionate vendors than on finding existing caterers who are already at scale, we’ve developed an on-boarding process for helping educate our vendors on how to cater properly. We also help them manage the initial demand and work with them to make sure their delivery schedule is within the bounds of their resources. Since we sit in a unique position between our clients and our vendors, we’re also able to develop specific concepts with our vendors to address expressed needs on the client side. We’ve helped many of our vendors create entirely new menus – within their specific cuisine type of course – that have ultimately helped them more than double their business.
CA: What have been some of your greatest challenges in launching this business?
ZY: In launching Cater2.me, one of the first challenges we faced was building credibility in the eyes of our target vendors. Vendors get approached daily with new solutions, whether it’s loyalty programs, discount programs, or other catering solutions, and many have had less than ideal experiences with other services. We needed to demonstrate the differentiated commitment we were offering, which we did by being 100% available and extremely hands-on (we’ve personally attended orders with all of our vendors). Our vendors are also keenly focused on their brand, and we needed to convince them that we were committed to making sure that they were joining a community that also shared their commitment to quality.
Our current challenges are related to our recent internal growth and expansion. We’ve become very focused on building company culture, both locally in our markets and collaboratively on a national scale.
CA: There are a couple websites that offer similar services. How do you differentiate yourself from larger ordering services, such as Seamless, and smaller ones, such as ZeroCater?
Keeping the vendor pool tight also allows us to build closer relationships with our vendors, which ultimately results in a more consistent service experience for our clients. We then work hand-in-hand with our vendors to continually develop new menu concepts based on actual client demand. And we’re now benefiting greatly from our recent expansion to New York, where we’re accessing local food trends that we’re porting between geographies to spur further menu innovation.
We also have a differentiated perspective on customer service, which has contributed to our ability to attract clients away from competing services. Our roots are in financial services where you’re expected to be detailed oriented and need to be prepared for any and all requests, regardless of the hour. We took that 24/7, ‘client is king’ mentality into the office catering world, where that level of service wasn’t previously expected but has definitely been welcomed. Our service has been particularly attractive to larger companies with more complicated needs, and we’ve seen a large number of clients migrate to Cater2.me from other services as their organizational needs have grown.
CA: Seems like your model is working exceptionally well for technology startups, particularly in San Francisco. Why do you think this is?
ZY: Startups / tech companies have a few aspects that make them ideal users of our service: 1) They’re open to innovation 2) They’re focused on building company culture, and the food experiences we provide are a big part of that 3) They understand the benefits of specialization, and we’ve got teams doing what’s usually tasked to one individual who has 100 other things to do 4) It’s a tight community, and they all talk – we’ve basically built our entire base business off of word-of-mouth referrals and intros 5) They’re awesome groups to work with, so it’s not too difficult for us to go out of our way to make sure they’re happy .
CA: How are you approaching New York City’s market differently than San Francisco’s?
ZY: New York has a burgeoning tech scene which will translate nicely to our core audience of tech companies. But compared to San Francisco, NYC offers a wider variety of industries and we have good connections in many of those. Financial services is obviously very strong and other sectors like advertising and fashion also receive a fair amount of catering. New York is so dense and so many great companies are based here that we’re finding a lot of success just by being out there, knocking on doors, getting the word out.
CA: Can you name some of the NY food trucks/artisans you’ve discovered and would like to add to Cater2.me’s offerings in NY?
ZY: We’ve found a lot of really interesting vendors, some well known and some not so well known. The food trucks and farmers’ market purveyors can stand up against some of the best in the country. Korilla BBQ makes a mean meal and Wafels & Dinges makes special things happen with its waffles. We also love what the guys at Baohaus are doing and have our eyes on a number of ramen shops.