Reigning champ Zifty: ‘Back then, it was just pizza and Chinese’
When she thinks back on it, Jennifer Pete’ can’t remember exactly why, in 2003, she was looking at help wanted ads in Creative Loafing.
As a business professional seeking an upper-level type of job, though, she’d found herself at a bit of a crossroads.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Pete’ said. “But, I saw that Zifty.com was hiring and I thought, ‘I want to go meet with this company.’ I figured that’s how I’d get my foot in the door. I’d go apply to be a driver.”
When she arrived, there was “a guy (Founder Todd Miller), a folding chair, and a computer … and, that’s how our business relationship started. He had the idea, and I had a crazy gut feeling.”
Such is the story of Zifty, a successful food delivery service that started in Atlanta 13 years ago. While times have certainly changed for this company and countless other food delivery services around the metro Atlanta area, each has made it their goal to adapt and stay afloat within the ever-changing industry and try to be the best in the city.
Business models differ. Some delivery services highlight the convenience factor, some tout the skills of their chef, while others use partnerships with prominent area restaurants to help attract customers.
Zifty is of the latter school of thought. The business currently has relationships with more than 160 restaurants around Atlanta. It’s a model, Pete’ said, that “gave us credibility … in the beginning nobody had heard of us, but everybody had heard of these restaurants, so those relationships were key.”
But, there are other ways to do this.
For instance, Christophe’s to Go — another Atlanta-based food delivery service — highlights the skills of its own in-house chef, rather than delivering food from other restaurants.
Cyclone Covey, the business founder, said he met Christophe (the chef) years ago.
“He was doing a smaller scale version of what we’re doing now,” Covey said. “I started eating his food and realized how amazing it was. I asked him why he was operating out of a little hole in the wall. He said he didn’t have any capital and would like to expand the concept but couldn’t do it by himself. I said ‘let’s start a business.’”
Added Covey: “Some of the other food delivery companies, they don’t highlight their chefs, and that’s because in general they’re hiring people who are line cooks making $15 an hour … but Christophe was classically trained in France, and he’s worked in prominent places in the United States. His background is in fine dining and high-end food.”
That’s why they decided to name the company after him, Covey said.
“We want to feature him as our secret sauce, so to speak.”
For other delivery companies, the secret sauce lies in unique approaches to the industry. Such is the case with Foodsby, which is headquartered in Minneapolis, Minn., but has a local team based in Atlanta.
“There’s these massive marketplaces of consumers in commercial office buildings who want lunch delivered,” said Andrew Warg, a regional sales director with Foodsby.
The way the company works: Foodsby gets restaurants and office buildings to sign on to be part of its service. Employees in these office buildings can choose whether to sign up. Those who do get an email every morning at 8 a.m. that gives them food options for the day.
Warg said restaurant options rotate daily. While Foodsby provides the service, it’s the restaurants that deliver the food.
“The restaurant delivers all the individual meals at one delivery time to a centralized drop-off in the lobby of the building,” Warg said.
With this type of business model, he said, the consumer pays less: a $1.99 flat fee in addition to the regular cost of the food.
“That’s our spin on the model,” Warg said. “It’s a little different than people who are driving around picking up food.”
For Zifty — whose staff are driving around picking up food — it’s been interesting watching this whole market grow.
Having been in business as long as they have, Pete’ and Miller have observed the industry’s evolution.
“When we first started (in 2003), a lot of people were afraid to even use a credit card online to order. Now, it’s just like, ‘why wouldn’t you?’” Miller said, laughing.
He attributes the company’s longevity to “being flexible and being able to change … we constantly have to find ways to do everything better, to tweak the business in new ways.”
When Miller and Pete’ look back on the past 13 years — to a time when it was just the two of them making deliveries at Zifty — it’s a thrill seeing how far they’ve come.
Pete’, now vice president and partner of Zifty, said one of the keys to the company’s continued growth (to a staff size now of more than 100) has been its ability “to run ourselves really lean. We’ve always done as much as we can in-house, and we want to always stay in touch with what’s going on with the business. We don’t want to turn into this big ship that can’t make a quick turn.”
Added Pete’: “Back then, it was just pizza and Chinese. That’s all you get ordered in the city. And, we wanted to change that. Now, look at how different things are around Atlanta.”
Which service is your go-to? Leave your thoughts in the comments…