BC Business Magazine
IT'S A GOOD THING
How one Vancouver restaurateur is fighting back against the stranglehold that big food delivery players established during the pandemic
In the restaurant business, fortunes can turn on a dime—as Brandon Grossutti, owner of Gastown's Asianfusion eatery Pidgin, knows all too well.
“I feel like we're just getting started,” Grossutti told Scout Magazine in a February 25, 2020, profile. “I think the city and our peers in the industry feel that, too. Restaurants go through peaks and valleys dependent on the team, where your energy level is at and the restaurant scene at large. Right now, all those things are coming into alignment.”
From that peak, of course, came the unexpected valley of COVID—ONE that wasn't dependent on his award-winning team, or any other traditional success factors, but the sudden need to be socially distant. Speaking with Bcbusiness in April of this year, Grossutti recalls that by late February of 2020—around the time that story was published—things were starting to slip away: “We were in a situation where we hadn't been locked down yet, but it was looming.”
He began looking into the contracts offered by some of the food delivery services, thinking he'd have to shift gears to pickup and delivery. Grossutti says he was shocked at how big a cut outfits like Uber Eats, Doordash and Skip the Dishes were taking—upward of 30 percent of the food bill (before the B.C. government, in late 2020, introduced regulations that capped the total fee at 20 percent). “I realized it was bad,” he recalls. “I just didn't realize how bad.”
Grossutti decided to do something about it—creating his own delivery service, Fromto, which would offer a no-fee delivery platform. Drivers receive $6.50 per trip, plus tip—with Fromto only delivering to customers within a 5.5-kilometre radius of each restaurant. “We don't charge anything for the service,” Grossutti says. “The restaurant pays for the credit card transaction fee, and customers pay for the delivery.”
Some restaurants can offset part of that delivery cost, he notes, offering a discount to patrons who spend a certain minimum. There are also several add-ons that Fromto restaurants can offer, which aren't typically part of a delivery service. In the case of Pidgin, Grossutti includes a QR code with special orders—such as its tasting menu—which opens up a music playlist to accompany the meal.
After officially launching on May 5, 2020, with a handful of restaurants, Fromto was up to 44 by late this April, with 267 in the queue. “We are working flat out to get through the backlog,” Grossutti says. “I'm hoping that by June 1, we'll have 80 to 100 restaurants live on the platform.”
For Grossutti, the animating focus with Fromto has always been about fairness— to restaurateurs as well as drivers—and making sure money stays in the community. He says Fromto isn't registered as a nonprofit but is being run on a cost-recovery basis—for now. “Profit is something we didn't anticipate,” he adds. “We are just trying to stop the bleeding.”
Although Fromto has allowed several restaurants to keep the lights on, most operators using the service are still seeing steep revenue declines since the pandemic began; in the case of Pidgin, Grossutti estimates he's operating at about 60 percent of normal revenue. Coming out the other side of COVID will require both restaurateurs and patrons to confront some tough realities, he argues.
“I do think there is some inevitable consolidation in the industry, or closures—and that's unfortunate,” he says. “And prices will undoubtedly be going up.” And while Grossutti is looking forward to welcoming diners back into Pidgin—“a cardboard container cannot replicate what we do in-house”—he also believes that a significant portion of sales will continue to come through services like Fromto. “There is no going back.”