At noon on Monday, the lunch rush at Blowfish Sushi, located at 2170 Bryant St., was in full swing when the phone rang and host Daniel Norton-Luna picked up, punching an order into the iPad before him.
“This customer heads a really cool company,” said Norton-Luna, describing the caller’s startup as the “Wikipedia of health.” It’s also one where one department likes sushi and several times a week he gets the same take out order. “That’s a few hundred bucks’ worth of sushi,” he said.
Yet just a few blocks over at 3111 24th St., Yaron Milgrom cited the proliferation of food ordering apps and startups providing in-house meals to staff as some of the factors that influenced his decision to close Local Mission Eatery. Lawrence Coburn, CEO of the event app DoubleDutch at 2601 Mission St., said he understood Milgrom’s plight. “Restaurants have to compete with each other, but also with the employer that offers free lunch, and the app delivery services that offer speed and convenience,” he said.
While all of these factors were challenging for the Local Mission Eatery, most restaurants that Mission Local spoke with on Monday said they’ve been able to increase their sales by catering to the take-out crowd. Yes the start-ups are offering free food for employees, but many are buying it right in the Mission making takeout a new revenue source.
Conveniently situated along the 20th Street corridor in Mission Creek, Norton-Luna traced the restaurant’s hungry lunch crowd to the numerous startups that have sprouted in the otherwise quiet northeastern corner of the Mission.
The 75 employees of Automatic Labs at 575 Florida St. are provided with catered lunches twice a week, as well as four weekly dinners. Buckley Slender-White, who heads the startup’s marketing department, points to risks as well opportunities that come with third party delivery technology and the demand for catering services from local restaurants.
“Fewer people may come into the door, but restaurant owners have the ability to reach a wider crowd outside of the neighborhood,” he said. Food ordering apps generally take a commission of 10-20 percent, although some do not include delivery fees.
At Blowfish Sushi, Norton-Luna said the restaurant has also embraced technology in terms of interface, partnering with app-based delivery services and catering regularly to a nearby startup. An orange icon blinked on his iPad, showing the restaurant had just received an order through the food delivery app Caviar. Norton-Luna explained that the restaurant also partnered with Eat24, an online food ordering service that was acquired by Yelp in February.
“I think it would be weird if a restaurant didn’t have this set up,” he said. “The business model has to fit the community that you are catering to. If that’s tech, and if you don’t have an app that allows you to be of service on that level, I think it would be hard to survive as a restaurant.”
With its hearty sandwiches, Rhea’s Cafe at 2200 Bryant St. has also become a lunchtime favorite among neighboring companies. Manager Jesus Cendejas called the Mission’s startup presence a “double-edged sword” for restaurateurs and food industry workers.
“For business, the tech influx is good,” he said. “These companies bring new people to the neighborhood who can pay much more,” he said, pointing to an $11 sandwich listed on the menu. “Growing up here, I would never pay that much for a sandwich.” But tech workers will.
While Cedejas acknowledged that Rhea’s success is heavily fueled by the surrounding tech workforce, he pointed out that the value brought by startups to neighborhoods also translates into higher rents, higher priced goods, and the displacement of restaurant workers like himself.
Priced out of the city, the San Francisco native recently relocated to Oakland. “You have to be really established with a loyal clientele, or you have to cater to the crowd that can pay that much.”
Patrick Kocourek, co-owner of El Faro on 2399 Folsom St., agreed. The taqueria has been a staple in the neighborhood for over half a century, and its owners have not stepped into tech by way of delivery apps or catering, although Kocourek said he warmly welcomes the new clientele.
“We have people who have been coming here for 20-30 years, and we also serve plenty of tech folks from the area who want to eat something different,” said Kocourek. He believes that there is a demand for both.