— Office workers can get stuck in a vicious lunch
cycle: Lunch from home? Boring. Eating out? Often too
expensive, and there’s rarely enough time to get away
from your desk.
CEO Orazio Buzza sees that problem as a business
opportunity. Chicago-based Fooda is a workplace food
program that brings in a different pop-up restaurant to
serve as the office lunch vendor each day.
company, which made $48.3 million in sales last year but
is not yet profitable, has now grown to 10 cities and is
in about 800 offices or buildings. Fooda takes a cut
from each sale but says no money typically changes hands
with the buildings in which it operates.
interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did Fooda get started?
We started at Echo Global Logistics, the company that I
was at before Fooda. I was the president of the company
and as the company grew, one of the other people on the
management team put together this food program where
they solicited a restaurant to come into their space.
That was in 2007. It eventually became a five-day a week
program. It was one of our most-used perks at Echo.
a year later, one of our people on the human resources
team came in and said "Hey, some of our employees
are complaining because the (food) lines are getting too
long. And the reason they are getting too long is
because a lot of people are in line are people who don’t
work for Echo."
a week or two later, the light bulb went off in my head
and I thought: Why not leverage that concept to build a
so we started doing research on a couple things: One is
what employers and employees were doing at the time.
Two, how restaurants would perceive this. I thought if
we could sign up some of the biggest companies in
Chicago, then it would be an even stronger value
proposition for a restaurant because they can really
drum up some lunch business if they could have regular
business with a company that could provide that.
while we were doing that research, we started to test
things at more and more sites, and get customer
When did you officially launch the business, and how
have you grown since?
We launched in Chicago in 2011, stayed only in Chicago
until the end of 2013 when we added New York City. We
just opened our 10th city.
What was the 10th?
What do you look for in a new city?
Our program works in dense urban areas and suburban
surroundings, so really any of the top 50 metropolitan
areas in the country would be a good target for us. But
then on top of that, our program is primarily geared
toward employers that have more than 400 or 500 people
in a location.
want to make sure there’s a good number of addressable
customers in the locations that we work so we have a way
to analyze a market, make sure there’s enough demand
on the customer side, and then we also look at what the
restaurant side looks like, in regards to independents
versus regional and national chains. Of the restaurants
we work with, probably 75 to 80 percent are local,
independent restaurants and about 20 percent are chains.
the profile of a market going in and understanding how
that makeup is going to look is important as part of the
Do you spell out how the restaurants should serve within
Absolutely. We have a training program that, when a
restaurant signs up for Fooda, we take them through. We
work on the menu with them because we know what food
travels well and what doesn’t. We work with them on
pricing, and then we train them on how to package it,
how to transport it, how to lay it out, what equipment
they’re going to need.
a subset of our restaurants have been doing large-scale
catering for years and they clearly know what they’re
doing, and it’s more of a guideline for those
restaurants because they’re already experts.
How often do you rotate restaurants and how do you
A typical site wouldn’t see the same restaurant more
than once every four to six weeks. We want to make sure
they’re getting lots of variety and in turn, the
restaurants get exposure to many more locations. The
variety helps on both sides. It keeps things fresh.
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time, they tend to have their favorites. We’ll analyze
sales data, and based on site-level metrics, we’ll
target a restaurant to go back more often at one site
versus another depending on how it’s done previously.
What food travels best and what doesn’t?
Barbecue travels really well, Mexican food travels
really well. And salads, obviously. Anything cold does
really well. We primarily sell hot food, and it’s all
cooked at the restaurant and transported in catering
that get tricky are things like burgers and fries, or
things that are deep-fried. We do have a couple of
burger restaurants that are capable of doing a good job
transporting but it’s definitely a lot harder to do
that. Fries are almost impossible.
What’s next for the company?
added three cities this year, and so we’re just heads
down, focused on expanding geographically. We’ll
probably add another couple of cities this year. Next
year, we’ll probably add eight to 10 cities.
Do you tend to saturate a city before you move on to the
We have a launch team that focuses on one city at a
time. At the end of the day, we’re a marketplace. In
order to make an effective marketplace, you need
critical mass. We need enough restaurants that we can
offer really good quality and variety and we need enough
companies that we can offer enough exposure and ongoing
business to keep the restaurants interested.