Lunch is serious business for Cater2.me, a corporate catering startup that has joined the fray of companies jostling to feed Chicago's office workers.
The company, founded by two friends who met at the University of Pennsylvania, already operates in its hometown of San Francisco and in New York. Cater2.me connects food vendors with offices that have catering needs, whether it's once-a-week lunches for a 20-person firm or a large-scale evening gala. In Silicon Valley, where catered lunch is a common employee perk among tech firms, Cater2.me counts Yelp and Eventbrite as clients.
In Chicago, the company is hoping to win customers from the city's growing startup community, as well as the local offices of their existing clients in San Francisco and New York. On the vendor side, Cater2.me has signed up eateries such as the West Loop's Saigon Sisters and Costa Rican restaurant Irazu in Bucktown. The company also prides itself on finding smaller food providers that don't usually deliver to offices -- Cater2.me has recruited Feast & Imbibe, an outfit started by former Moto sous chef D'Andre Carter that hosts underground and pop-up dinners; and Glazed and Infused, the artisanal doughnut shop from Christine McCabe, a former pastry chef at Charlie Trotter's.
"We're not looking for every single restaurant on the street," said Cater2.me co-founder Alex Lorton. "We're not just looking for restaurants, either. We're looking for the best food in any given market, whether it's a food truck, farmers market or independent chef."
Cater2.me looks for clients with a minimum of 10 employees. It typically schedules meals a few months in advance, making sure that it can provide enough variety for customers and give vendors adequate time to prepare the orders. The company makes sure food allergens are labeled properly and takes responsibility for customer service. Co-founder Zach Yungst said Cater2.me has also arranged special meals, such as a ramen noodle bar or making burritos to order on site.
The company will compete with Chicago-based GrubHub and New York-based Seamless, both of which connect restaurant delivery service with diners. Chicago startup Fooda, meanwhile, arranges for local restaurants to set up temporary food stations at offices. While GrubHub and Seamless are more focused on individual meals, Seamless also has a corporate program that encompasses group ordering and event catering.
Lorton said he sees Cater2.me is "building a food program" for customers, rather than organizing one-off meals, and giving exposure to high-quality local vendors.
"I don't know there are that many places where the food scene is more exciting than in Chicago," Lorton said. "There's a lot of things happening, from high-end restaurants to the grassroots level."
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