At the beginning of February, TechCrunch reported that the private chef-prepared, food delivery service Munchery was raising an additional $20 million in funding on top of the $4 million in Series A and $700,000 in seed money it had previously raised. It's a report that Munchery CEO Tri Tran still will not comment on nor confirm, but he does acknowledge, "Of course, we're looking to expand."
That expansion will bring the packaged gourmet meals to places beyond the immediate area around San Francisco and it will increase the number of chefs who work with Munchery to make those meals, said Tran.
There are lots and lots of food delivery apps and start-ups, especially in the Bay Area. But, Tran believes what he offers is fundamentally different. Munchery is not a delivery service from an existing restaurant, yet it does rely on well-known and high-end chefs -- unlike some other packaged meals that are dropped off at your door. Most notably, Munchery picked up chef Bridget Batson from Gitane last year.
According to Tran, Munchery is the result of his own problems answering the question 'what's for dinner' each night. Too often he and his wife ate take-out. But, his neighbor was a private chef, who had previously been a chef at Google. Surely there was a way to get those delicious meals for dinner without it being as prohibitively expensive as hiring your own chef each night.
"I approached it like an engineer would," he said.
At the end of 2010, the service was launched in beta. Personal and private chefs would make extra meals with their regular orders. Those meals would be purchased on the Munchery platform by busy San Franciscans and delivered to their door that evening.
"I initially used to do all the deliveries by myself," said Tran.
By March 2011, the service went public and Tran quit his day job as an engineer. They also hired actual part-time delivery drivers and software engineers. Initially the idea was to partner with chefs so that they could sell additional meals on Munchery. The company then takes a commission from each purchase and the partner chefs are responsible for all their own ingredients, kitchens and production. That is still half of what Munchery does, allowing a customer to pick from a wide menu as long as the meals each chef makes don't sell out.
However, this past summer, the demand became too great to meet with just the 30 "partner chefs." There are now eight resident chefs on staff too, including Batson, who make meals also available on each day's changing menu. The service also revamped its mobile app to order on-the-go and began offering drinks and kids portions as well (presumably not together).
Tran won't disclose the number of customers they have except to say that "thousands and thousands" of meals are delivered each week.
Meals can be ordered the day of -- as long as they're not sold out -- and are delivered fully-cooked and chilled in recycled containers. All you're supposed to have to do is follow the heating instructions.
The food is about $9-13 per entree, with additional sides available for a few dollars more. There's also a $4.95 surcharge for living in Marin or the South Bay -- areas outside its initial San Francisco delivery zone. Tipping isn't an option on the first delivery, but after that it can be added into your order online or on the iPhone app. The delivery driver doesn't see if there's a tip, which is supposed to relieve some of the awkwardness of deliverymen waiting at the door for a tip, said Tran. (There's also a wealth of feel-good additions to the service: carbon offsets purchased for all delivery miles, packaging made from fully-recycled materials.)
To test out the service, I ordered dinner. The only meals not sold out for that night didn't appeal to me. Instead, I ordered for three nights later: Coffee Crusted Bavette Steak, Grilled Pork Tenderloin & Sumac, "Catalan Style" Lacinato Kale and Zucchini Apple Oat Bread. That sounds fancy. The question with delivery meals is always how it actually works out in person.
Promptly a few minutes after 5 p.m., a knock at our door delivered a package of brightly-colored Munchery boxes. The entrees sat in small trays to be heated in the oven or microwave. I tried one entree in each with mixed results.
Out of the boxes and in the small trays the food didn't look as exciting as it had online. But once we started eating, it didn't matter how it looked. It tasted far better than anything either of us would have been able to make that night.
The steak had an interesting bite with the coffee flavor, despite the fact that I had accidentally over-cooked it while heating, and the pork tenderloin was juicy and tangy. Each of the entrees (at $12.95, even with the slight discount for ordering days in advance) came with a few spoonfuls of vegetables or a side, which might be filling enough for most people but wouldn't have been for me. To add to that, I ordered the kale. I didn't love it, but there was nothing wrong with it either. The highlight of the meal, though, was the zucchini apple oat bread. It wasn't so much bread as a dessert -- sweet and light. It also made me interested in the other treats from that chef, whose name is prominently displayed on the item.
That's partially the whole point, said Tran, and why chefs like to work with Munchery. It allows them to create a brand and reach new people. And, the variety of chefs keeps each customer from getting stuck in a boring slump of eating the same thing every night.
"I order from Munchery everyday," said Tran. "But, I don't order from the same chef everyday."
At $45, with the living in Marin County delivery fee, it's a little pricey for me to order everyday. But, that price would go down if you lived in San Francisco or if you limited yourself to just entrees. And, there are certainly more than a few people in the area spending more than that on take-out or eating out each night. It's ease also makes it an easy answer to the 'what's for dinner' question. That means the company isn't having trouble finding a foothold in the crowded food start-up industry -- though Munchery isn't profitable yet.
All of this has happened out of a headquarters in the Mission. Up next is expanding the delivery region, expanding the number of options, and expanding who is eating that food. The idealized mission is to bring food prepared by private chefs to those who can't afford private chefs, just as long as they can afford Munchery. "We want to bring eating better to everybody," said Tran.