How We Started A $3MM/Year Catering Delivery Service

$250,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
7
Employees
product
Spork Bytes
from Portland
started April 2014
$250,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
7
Employees
442K
alexa rank
4.9K
followers
286
followers
customer service
productivity

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

It’s lunchtime at the office. Everyone is hungry and anxious for a break from the workday. The team walks into the kitchen only to find it’s pizza for lunch. Again. Or maybe instead of pizza it’s a bland boxed-lunch style sandwich. Either way, these types of mundane meals repeat themselves in offices on a daily basis.

We knew there had to be a better way to gather teams around good food so in 2014 we set out to address this problem in our adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon. I’m Tim Taylor, and along with my business partner, Chris Diamond, we are the founders of Spork Bytes - a catering delivery service that partners with the best local restaurants and coordinates everything needed to pull together a delicious meal for your office. From the initial order coordination to delivery logistics and a seamless setup process, Spork Bytes save our clients valuable time while providing access to quality, local cuisine in their workplace.

To date (August 2019), Spork Bytes is partnered with 60 high-quality restaurants and food purveyors in the Portland area. We focus on serving (pardon the pun) offices of 50 or more as well as providing services for special events - weddings, corporate gatherings, holiday parties, etc. We offer mostly pre-fixed yet customized menus that allow us to easily adhere to an offices’ changing headcount, dietary restriction and delivery instructions.

Our ideal customer is an office manager who plans lunch on a recurring basis but we also work closely with people like party/event planners and venue staff.

Our initial funding came in the form of a $15,000 loan from friends and family. We were able to pay that off in the first year and Spork Bytes has been profitable since then. Annual revenue was $2 Million in 2018 and we’re on pace to exceed $3 Million in 2019 thanks to an average growth rate of 50 percent over the last three years.

how-we-started-a-3mm-year-business-delivering-restaurant-caterings

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Working in the foodservice industry was something Chris and I experienced during our time at the University of Oregon where we worked in the catering department together one summer. After graduation, Chris began working in the hospitality industry while I went off to start a corporate career in finance.

Shortly thereafter, Chris began to notice that many local restaurants were struggling to effectively and consistently secure lunch catering orders from business in their area. From my vantage point, the example I shared earlier about eating the same pedestrian office lunches was something I personally experienced on a regular basis. Was it really that hard to coordinate good food from local spots? Apparently so.

Seeing a void and a potential opportunity sparked many conversations between Chris and I. Then, in early 2014, after numerous discussions about “could” and “should” we, Chris moved to Portland to live with me and we started Spork Bytes out of our garage. Literally. We used some of our initial funds to purchase equipment and stage catering setups in the garage to practice and learn what we were about to go sell to businesses throughout Portland.

During those early days, there was a strong sense of urgency in everything we did since we both had quit our jobs to focus on Spork Bytes. We did have to pick up some part-time evening/night gigs to make ends meet during that first year but luckily, it wasn’t too long before we partnered with our first restaurant, Khao San Thai, and that got us rolling with our first recurring large office client and proved that we had a viable business.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

We continued to test various catering setups and equipment while simultaneously refining and improving our business model as we slowly booked more and more orders. I vividly remember the anxiousness and excitement Chris and I felt when we secured our first 100-person order, pacing around the garage and tinkering with different ideas to make the experience as seamless as possible for our new client.

As business picked up we started to notice some gaps in the Portland catering business that we could take advantage of. It started with a lack of proper delivery equipment to keep the food hot or cold. Serving the food how our restaurant partners intended and how our clients expected was paramount so we invested in all of the proper equipment to keep the hot items hot and cold items cold during transport.

To date, we’ve spent less than $1,000 on advertising. Instead, we focus on cultivating an engaged community on social media

Thanks to our garage “R&D” sessions we were able to develop a clean and logical way to set everything up in our client’s offices. Many delivery services simply drop off the food in leaky paper bags, leaving the office manager to fend themselves.

We figured out what it took to create an efficient catering set up in a variety of office conditions, leaving the client with a spread that is as professionally presented as it is delicious. This extra step not only sets the tone for a more enjoyable meal but also saves the office staff significant time and energy, particularly when handling meals for larger teams.

Another seemingly simple detail that was often overlooked was the labeling of food. We began producing custom labels for each item on the menu, including the name of the dish, a brief description and dietary tags such as vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, and more. It only took a little extra time to create but it was important to our clients and helped show them we were committed to providing them with a premium experience from start to finish.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Learning something new with every meal, we did our best to stretch our seed money - $15k loan from friends and family - as far as we could. Beyond the purchasing of the necessary catering equipment, we used that money to develop the Spork Bytes brand (logo, colors, taglines, etc.), build our first website, and create some basic sales and marketing materials such as flyers and rack cards.

From the beginning, Chris and I did everything to operate and grow the business. Mornings would be spent finalizing logistics before heading off to handle deliveries. We would then spend the afternoons trying to expand our clientele by going door-to-door and engaging with local businesses.

We operated this way throughout our whole first year of business before we reached a point where there were too many orders for us to fill on our own. At that time we began recruiting friends to help us with the deliveries for a couple of hours each day.

It’s not unique to us but finding and retaining good people has been the most difficult part of running our business. Most of our employees are part-time delivery staff. We can only offer two or three hours of work each day, which means our employees usually need to have another job. As we’ve grown, our ability to provide more hours for our part-time staff has increased as we’ve expanded to offer catering for breakfast, happy hours and special events. As of August 2019, Spork Bytes employs seven full-time and 13 part-time employees.

how-we-started-a-3mm-year-business-delivering-restaurant-caterings

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Providing superior customer service and being loyal to our partners are the pillars of the Spork Bytes philosophy. Many of our early clients were sourced through personal connections - friends working at big tech companies downtown, for example - and we continue to rely heavily on word-of-mouth and positive recommendations of clients.

Knowing the value of a referral and the importance of a personal connection, every Spork Bytes client has a dedicated point of contact throughout the entire process. This concierge helps coordinate all of the necessary details and ensures a seamless experience from start to finish.

In order to grow and scale as effectively as possible, we leveraged technology and invested in a web application that allows us to create custom proposals for our clients. Within the app, clients are able to easily view all of the details of their order, compare menus from several different restaurant partners and walk through the approval and confirmation process with ease.

One of the most important things I’ve learned over the years is to manage expectations - yours and your team. Getting too hyped on your idea or business early on can lead to unrealistic expectations

As our business grew it became apparent that bringing on a full-time developer would be the most cost-effective option so about two years ago we made this hire. Since then, we’ve continued to refine and improve our custom web app that helps us create client accounts, menus, invoices, and purchase orders, while also organizing the approval and confirmation process.

The delivery logistics are also streamlined using a custom delivery driver interface. All of this backend work translates into a premium level of service for our clients.

We’re fortunate that given the local nature of our business it isn’t critical for us to run national or even state-wide marketing or advertising campaigns. In fact, to date, we’ve spent less than $1,000 on advertising. Instead, we focus on cultivating an engaged community on social media. We have successfully and organically grown our Instagram account to nearly 5,000 followers, many of whom reside in the greater Portland area and fit our client profile.

We recently hired a freelancer out of Los Angeles to assist with our marketing, content creation and SEO efforts. He runs the Spork Bytes blog where we publish one or two unique posts per month highlighting the happenings in and around Portland. This content, as well as other updates and news, are also shared via our email newsletter, which people can subscribe to here.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

As I mentioned before, sourcing, managing and retaining employees has been the most difficult part of running our business. Since our deliveries require more than just dropping a bag of food at the front door, we have higher standards and rely on our staff to represent Spork Bytes in a professional manner.

Early on, we explored the idea of having our restaurant partners perform the delivery and set up for us. We quickly learned that in order to maintain a consistently high level of service we needed to handle this in-house. While it would have saved us a considerable amount of time and stress not having to manage staff, I still believe this is the right decision to ensure a professional appearance and retain clients.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Early on, we explored the idea of having our restaurant partners perform the delivery and set up for us. We quickly learned that in order to maintain a consistently high level of service we needed to handle this in-house. While it would have saved us a considerable amount of time and stress not having to manage staff, I still believe this is the right decision to ensure a professional appearance and retain clients.

We rely heavily on our developers to keep things running smoothly, especially online. In addition to our custom web app, we have incorporated a handful of tools to ensure an efficient business operation. These include the Google Suite, Asana, Intercom and most recently Zendesk. All of these tools integrate seamlessly with each other and help keep us organized without the need for purchasing expensive white-labeled software.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Personal growth and the impact that can have on small businesses is something Chris and I value. There are so many helpful resources available nowadays but I would say Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People helped me come out of my shell early in my career and learn how to talk to people. That set me up well and made me much for comfortable when tackling a lot of the sales and business development activities for Spork Bytes.

Good to Great by Jim Collins is a book that Chris and I have both read and was instrumental in forming some of the critical decisions we’ve made throughout the life of the business.

In addition to the books mentioned above, we also frequently read, watch and listen to people like Tim Ferriss, Seth Godin, Jen Sincero and Simon Sinek. These folks, in addition to many more, have helped us cultivate ideas and develop the right mindset to be successful entrepreneurs.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

One of the most important things I’ve learned over the years is to manage expectations - yours and your team. Getting too hyped on your idea or business early on can lead to unrealistic expectations. I let that happen to me and I ended up taking some unnecessary risks early in my career. While it’s difficult, don’t let the highs be too high and lows too low.

This same principle applies to employees. They need to know that you support and believe in them while setting expectations that they should be able to meet given their experience and skillset.

If you set the bar too low, they may not perform to the level needed or produce anything special. Set overly ambitious and unrealistic goals and they will likely miss the mark, leaving you disappointed and having wasted valuable time and emotions. Stay as even keel as you can.

The second piece of advice I would offer is to believe in what you’re selling. I don’t think this has to go as far as the cliche of “follow your passion,” however if you don’t genuinely believe that what you’re selling benefits those you are selling to, then achieving sustainable sales and longevity is going to be very difficult.

Find something you believe in or learn how to believe in the thing you’ve already found. Then go and sell the shit out of it! Your belief will make them believe.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are always looking for part-time delivery drivers to join the team. Drivers have the opportunity to experience some of the best local restaurants and interact with people working in some of the fastest-growing companies in Portland. For the most part, we hire from within so advancement opportunities are plentiful and more positions will be opening as we continue to grow.

Where can we go to learn more?

People can visit us online at SporkBytes.com where they can check out our more than 60 Portland-area restaurant partners, catch up on the latest happenings on our blog, subscribe to our email list or join the conversation on Instagram. We look forward to hearing from everyone and maybe even serving some of you, too!

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Tim Taylor,   Founder of Spork Bytes

Want to start your own business?

Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.

We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.

If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.

Interested in sharing your own story? Find out how!

-  
Pat Walls,   Founder of Starter Story

Are you ready to boost your revenue?

Using Klaviyo will open up a massive, untapped sales channel and bring you closer to your customers!

We've interviewed many impressive businesses who swear by the results of the product, including Brumate, Beardbrand, and many more.

Level up your email marketing with Klaviyo!

Leave a comment

Check out our premium interviews: