Drop by a start-up in the Mission and ask the employees about Silicon Valley food culture. They smile. Everyone has heard about Apple’s wood oven-fired pizzas, Google’s free meals and Facebook’s legendary bring-a-friend to lunch deal.
But in our neighborhood? How do our local start-ups’ kitchens — or sometimes just fridges — fare in the gastronomic tech universe? Mission Loc@l visited 12 local start-ups and discovered that most have no office chef, but between in-house food and eating out in a neighborhood that easily tops those in Silicon Valley, many are overfed.
“Everyone’s on a diet,” said Dave O’Dell, who runs operations at Posterous, where lunch is catered twice a week. “We spend an amazing amount of time talking about exercise.” Rich Pearson, Posterous’ vice president of marketing, said he’s currently only eating “things from a blender.”
As in other places, junk food abounds.
Chocolate, Skittles, Pop-Tarts — the unwholesome works — filled the pantries of nearly all of the companies. Those little pretzel things? “Snap a little Nutella on them,” said Emily Fotiadi, one of the nearly 50 employees at CrowdFlower near Mission and 16th streets.
The kitchen is impressive. Foosball, chess and a couch where workers can nap coexist with a stash of candy, fruit, chocolate and even a wine and liquor bar. The latter is usually open during Friday evening demos.
Indeed, it is difficult to escape from unhealthy snacks. Although she stocks organic fruit and vegetables, Liza Sperling, the director of corporate relationships at Seesmic, acknowledged that if the office banned junk food, employees would ask where to find it.
Nevertheless, some Mission start-ups try to control the junk.
“I make them eat healthier foods,” said Kasi Sheridan, the office manager at WIX, speaking from the company’s large and colorful kitchen, replete with a Viking fridge. “I try to shove it down their throats.” In addition to on-site cooking, she stocks the kitchen with fruit from a local market and plenty of V8 to try to promote a healthier diet.
Nearly half of the start-ups surveyed provide catered meals for their employees at least once a week, a perk that encourages socializing and opportunities to share ideas.
“Previously, we were just buying pizza week after week, but recently we asked one of our co-worker’s friends to start preparing meals for us,” said Chris Hopkins, an engineer at Rocket Science Consulting on Alabama Street, where around 35 people work.
Every Friday the cook arrives at 12:30 p.m. “and brings us some unique, delicious, fresh lunch she’s prepared for us.” So far that’s meant an Asian chicken salad, “crazy-ass mozzarella chicken with fresh tomatoes, and she even did fried chicken and homemade biscuits once,” said Hopkins, who describes it as some of the best food he has had in the city.
For others, the free meal is a staple. Florence Gin, office manager at the travel search site Hipmunk, used to take to-go orders for everyone. Not anymore. “There is too much to order now; I have better things to do.” Instead, she uses two catering start-ups.
Few employees in the Mission are asking their bosses for more catered lunches. Instead, they said, they want the freedom to eat out. The Mission, as they see it, has something Silicon Valley does not.
“We only cater lunches two times a week because we have such great food in the Mission,” said Sachin Agarwal, CEO of Posterous. Employees agree. “I look forward to days I don’t have free lunch,” said O’Dell.
“We eat out a lot, we like the local restaurants,” said Jaime Sena, a project manager at FORA.tv, speaking of — among others — the taco trucks and sushi joints near their office.
And, perhaps inevitably, some start-ups have integrated their eating habits into marketing and growing their company.
Bryan Schwartz, CEO of PrePay, a start-up that allows individuals to redeem store credit — and receive discounts — through a phone application, frequents the local restaurants that subscribe to his service.
Schwartz also happens to work from the second floor of the Summit Cafe at the i/o Ventures incubation space, an office he shares with numerous other start-ups.
If employees there get hungry, they walk downstairs to the Summit. Schwartz said he prefers the turkey sandwich and “berry blast” drink.
But even in the world of start-ups, there’s a pecking order for perks.
In a small shared office space on the sixth floor of the U.S. Bank building at Mission and 22nd streets, the employees of Flowtown, awe.sm and Plancast make do with a mini-fridge.
The three start-ups rotate buying and stocking the office with snacks, Mexican Coke and beer. Costco runs are the norm.
No, they don’t call it a kitchen, said Jeremiah Cohick, a front-end engineer at awe.sm. It’s more like a “shared sink.”