Editor’s Note: In September we announced that Skift was expanding into food and drink with the addition of the Chefs+Tech weekly newsletter.
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David Chang + Silicon Valley + a Restaurant without a Dining Room
Investment in food-tech is a thing, and the New York Times is on it. But seriously, the story of David Chang’s Ando, a delivery-only enterprise, is notable for both its business model and its purpose. Ando launched last year as a delivery-only lunch restaurant for people in Midtown Manhattan. Yesterday, it announced $7 million in VC funding, the first restaurant in the Momofuku empire to accept such capital.
The Times piece draws a lot of parallels between the traditional restaurant industry vs. the startup model of funding and growth, evoking mentions of the ill-fated delivery service SpoonRocket and struggling Munchery. (Actual article quote: “Food is a lot tougher than it looks.” You don’t say.) VC investment and Silicon Valley jargon aside, the root of Ando, and likely its biggest point of success, is the new, sustainable business it’s hoping to create. By building a restaurant without a dining room, Chang eliminates massive expenses and opens the door to fast growth — two things that are making Valley VCs pretty happy.
Given that these “virtual restaurants,” as they’re sometimes called, are facilitated by apps and the internet, they easily fall into the purview of “food tech.” Add in a startup financing model, and these feel downright futuristic. This is great evidence of the synergy between restaurants and a tech-centric model of operation, and I expect to see these sorts of parallels continue. Silicon Valley is very interested in food, so it seems the traditional hospitality industry has much to gain from this interest and focus.
No, It’s Not Just You
You think no one’s watching while you huddle over your phone, clutching the passenger pole, and salivating as a set of disembodied hand speed-preps Chocolate Chip Banana Monkey Bread aka what you wish you’d brought for breakfast. Don’t even get me started about the no-bake stuff—what could be more satisfying than a craft project-style that turns cupboard staples into pastry wonders. I wonder.
Turns out I’m not alone, to the tune of 500 million compadres per month and billions (yes, with a B) of views. These Tasty videos are now responsible for 50 percent of Buzzfeed’s revenue, catapulting the viral media engine into one of the most influential food hubs on the internet. Consider this statistic, which anyone who has ever worked in content creation will tell you is… ambitious: “In 15 months, Tasty has created 2,000 recipe videos that in aggregate reach a staggering 500 million people a month.” That’s an internet gold medal. Additionally, they measure video success by “share rate” — a metric that shows how often the video was shared by a viewer to friends. (One to three percent is considered good.) If you’re interested, the Adweek piece has much more of the thought process and execution behind the evolving video strategy.
Buzzfeed has long been regarded a catalyst of change in content, experimenting with distribution and format from its inception, but will it change the future of food television? Founder + Publisher Jonah Peretti certainly thinks so, given the big ad dollars TV and Hollywood have the potential to attract. If they scale up the Tasty video madness, would Julia approve? I ask you.
We Eat With Our Eyes—FACT.
Basically we’re all kids in a candy store. Whether you remember that lowly local Chinese joint in the neighborhood where you grew up whose window filled plasticized chow mein was a deep deterrent to walk-in (unbeknownst to them) or you do a quick perusal of a restaurant’s Insta-feed before booking a table, you know who you are. You want to see what you’re getting into (and let’s face it — in the age of the $40 roast chicken and $18 glass of pinot noir, we need all the evidence up front.) Why not roll out the full menu on the mother of all social networks, then? At Jean-George’s latest location housed in the W Hotel in Doha, the whole damn menu rolls out on Instagram. Or check out the still life approach at this bar in Thailand. The approach appears to be especially popular in Asia. Shocking? I think not, since 25 percent of the continent’s social media usage accounts for 52.2 percent globally. #whoorderedthefrogslegs
Wherever You Go, I Will Follow…
While you may not know the location of Stars Hollow, there’s just about no place you can’t find on Google Maps, and the product has this wonky way of delighting us all with each crafty little plug-in that makes the whole thing feel like you could pop into your device and walk around. Why go anywhere else? App-switching is so 2015.
Just in time for the giant organizational cluster that is the holiday season, you can now order food through Google Maps in case you just plain can’t bear to cruise by Sweetgreen without grabbing a Rad Thai. This news may come as a bit of a death toll to those that call themselves “Google for food delivery” since it looks like there is, in fact, a Google for food delivery. I mean, between Uber Eats, Caviar, Grubhub (and the ever-cheeky now sub-brand Eat24), awful lot of choices out there in an already crowded space for those who can’t be bothered to walk a few blocks for ramen. But I have to think one of the two with the infrastructure to deliver things — Amazon and Uber — are poised to dominate, one robot-dropped or self-driven Souvla at a time.
It Ain’t All About Cannabis…
Despite the upcoming election and much-anticipated marijuana legalization in the state of California (hello, Proposition #64), the agricultural commentary has reached new heights these days. But as investments in ag-tech hit a record high—25 billion globally—in 2015, it’s looking like this year will exceed last. “The total dollars were impressive,” said Decker Walker of BCG whose firm along with AgFunder wrote the report. “It is striking that it’s happening at a time when farmer income is declining.” Pretty grim. As some farmer’s adopt “precision” agricultural approaches (think GPS-equipped drones who steer tractors and other new technologies that increase efficiencies), some are curious where the money goes if not in farmers’ bleeding wallets. The research found that two-thirds of this massive number goes to in-house research and development rather than generating new business, and ergo income for farmers themselves as the profession becomes increasingly non-lucrative, especially if you’re independent from a giant agribusiness conglomerate. A sad day for the farmer’s market, that’s for sure. Cue the tiny, country fiddles.
Some Things Are Weird and Hilarious
All in a dog day’s work, this particular pup, Popeye the Foodie Dog, is making rounds of the interwebs and thinking people are concerned for his owner’s health, because we know he’s not the one taking down all the In ‘N Out and bread bowls. While I realize his rags to culinary riches story is one that seems to resonate with dog / food lovers everywhere, I’ll be tracking the animal rights dialogue. It’s not like he’s coming to us live from The French Laundry. Yet another bit that makes you question the psychology that lives at the intersection of two things the internet loves: dogs and burgers.
- Food+Tech Connect just launched a very helpful job board to connect food-tech-minded startups with food-tech-minded jobseekers. Awesome. — Food+Tech Connect
- And you thought the controversy was whether to choose Chobani over Fage… Chobani is “alienating” the far right because it hires refugees. —New York Timesread on. (We are pro-Chobani, in case you’re wonderingasking.)
- Reserve turns two, shares some numbers (congrats, guys!) — Reserve
Dessert: Ain’t nothin’ dowdy about it… all the apples in the oven this season.