A shift often begins in the early morning hours for Gabriel Rovaina (Gabe, pictured below). He was one of the first drivers hired by Bite Sqaud, a local restaurant delivery service that launched in August 2012. Rovaina checks in at the office nestled within the warehouses of Northeast Minneapolis and suits up in his uniform. He grabs a car top sign and brings it outside to his 2012 hybrid Toyota Prius, painted brightly in clean green and white. He tunes in to his favorite classical radio station, and drives to Bobby and Steve’s Autoworld on Washington. (A Bite Squad driver’s morning always begins with a car wash.) Rovaina makes a quick analysis of the weather, and if there aren’t any catering orders to be filled, hovers around neighborhoods home to what he predicts will be the cuisine choice of the day. “Today, it will be soups and sandwiches,” he says, his eyes scanning the gray sky and heaps of snow.
BiteSquad was the brainchild of partners Kian Salehi and Arash Perzad-Allaei, the pair of tech-savvy University of Minnesota graduates who created Crowdcut (a local version of Groupon). They sought to supplement the limited delivery options of urban residents (think pizza and Chinese) to include a more diversified list of options (think anywhere from Greek to Indian to sushi). Bite Squad now employs more than 40 drivers and has 14 cars in the fleet. It launched with 18 restaurant partnerships, and in 7 months that number has jumped to over 100. They’ve partnered with local giants like Parasole and D’Amico, as well as smaller haunts like Pancho Villa and Tao Natural Foods.
The concept is simple; type in your address and you’re matched with participating restaurants within a seven-mile radius (to protect the quality of food). Search results are grouped based on distance, and these groups reflect delivery fees that range from $3.99 to $7.99. In addition to a complete online menu, every restaurant has a link to Yelp reviews, favorite menu items, and general information like address and hours. After you click on your chosen restaurant’s menu, a real-time delivery estimate appears — with times as specific as 43 minutes (and thanks to their technology, spot on). Once you place your order another real-time screen indicates where it is in the process, from when it begins cooking to when it leaves the restaurant. Then you simply watch and wait for your favorite pad thai or Vincent Burger to come to you. Containers are microwave-proof, knife-proof (stopping anyone from cutting through the bottom), and have drip guards inside to prevent food from turning soggy.
Bite Squad takes a percentage of the sale from the restaurant, and in turn, the restaurant can be oblivious to the headache that stem from employing in-house delivery systems. “We don’t need to worry about things like insurance for drivers,” says Jake Polt, one of the owners of Ginger Hop in Minneapolis. “From an operational standpoint, it takes a lot of work away from our end.”
What sets Bite Squad apart from other local food delivery services is their use of technology. Orders come in to the restaurant via Bite Squad provided Samsung Tablets loaded with proprietary software created in-house. Drivers are equipped with smart phones so they’re able to communicate to dispatch where an order is in the process, step by step. Dispatch (literally a single man behind a screen) hand assigns drivers based on their location and traffic patterns. It’s almost ironic to see the most vital step of a technology-driven company dependent on human hands. Eventually they’ll integrate with Google Maps to give customers a live visual of where their food is in the process. Bite Squad also relies heavily on social media and real time interactivity with customers. They have more than 11,000 Facebook fans, and around 1,300 followers on Twitter. It’s not uncommon to see customers interact directly with Bite Squad via social forums.
Sometimes even the most experienced drivers have a radar that is amiss. Rovaina receives a lunchtime order from Moto-i, an Asian street food restaurant that is far from the anticipated soup / sandwich wave he anticipated on a dreary February day. As he drove down Lyndale towards Moto-i, there was a blip during which three Bite Squad cars passed one another at one moment in time. Between the heavy presence of green and white cars buzzing around Minneapolis, and the recent addition of a St. Paul delivery zone, it’s clear a local need has been filled.