Four years ago, while they were students at UC Berkeley, Anson Tsui and Steven Hsiao started a junk food delivery business called Late Night Option, which proved to be popular with their fellow students. It still is.
But Tsui and Hsiao are not junk food fans themselves – they prefer much healthier vegetarian and vegan dishes. “We started feeling guilty delivering junk food,” says Tsui.
So last week they launched a new company, SpoonRocket, that leverages everything they’ve learned with Late Night Option into a service that delivers healthy artisan food and super fast delivery in the SoMa District for $6 per portion.
They are able to provide such fast service because they’ve built an Uber-like platform to rush one of their small fleet of five delivery vans carrying scores of meals in heating units to whichever address the online orders come in from – in real time.
“Most food delivery takes at least 45 minutes,” notes Tsui. “Ours is almost instant – within ten minutes. It is the kind of thing that wasn’t possible before smartphones. The driver has an iPad in his car–and sees in real time where to go. He has navigation. He comes back for refills every hour or so.”
The company has devised other efficiencies as well.
“Our chef cooks food in batches, and then we get it into the vans,” says Tsui.
Every day there are two options – one dish with meat (like Kansas City Style BBQ Pork Ribs) and one veggie (like Grilled Eggplant Pepper & Summer Squashes Served with Roasted Tomato Sauce and Potato Gratin).
For now, the service is available from 11 am until 4 am the following day. In the future, the company’s goal is to operate 24-7.
In line with its healthy diet emphasis, SpoonRocket uses as many local, organic ingredients in its meals as possible.
“We want to source from local farms,” says Tsui. “Our end goal is to use all organic ingredients. The day is coming soon when price (or organic foods) is no longer an issue. For now, we're trying to help transition people to eating more vegetables and more organic food.”
Some of the popular meals so far are slow-roasted Old Fashioned Guinness Beef Stew on brown rice, sweet potato black bean chili, chicken rice risotto – essentially fusion food.
The company is on the lookout for recent graduates of culinary academies as it prepares to expand beyond SoMa and deliver to other neighborhoods in San Francisco.
SpoonRocket also has a charitable aspect – for every meal the company sells, it donates one to the UN’s World Food Programme to feed hungry children.
During beta testing in Berkeley, Tsui says it was somewhat of a surprise that people liked having only two options for what to order on any one day. “But,” he added, “they also say our portions aren't as big as they might be. That is a tough issue – how to balance of keeping it healthy and keeping it cheap with providing the kinds of portions some people are used to eating.”
That issue is, of course, due to the fact that most people have grown accustomed to over-eating each meal by roughly 20 percent. In other words, even though they’ve had all they need by the time they’ve consumed 80 percent of the typical meal, they still feel “hungry,” so they just keep eating, even though their bodies do not need all that extra food.
SpoonRocket’s business model includes a $40 annual subscription fee but for now through August, early adopters can sign up for a free lifetime membership.