As a manager in a downtown Cleveland office, you know it’s time to look into lunch options for your employees when a significant part of their morning is spent planning and debating the logistics of where to get lunch that day.
While downtown Cleveland certainly isn’t a food desert—there are restaurants and a robust food truck scene—lunch options aren’t always healthy, convenient and consistent.
That’s the situation Scott Himmel, founder of LunchOwl: wise lunches for wise companies, sought to address in 2013, after graduating from Tulane University with training in computer science, business and restaurant management and returning back north to his hometown on the shores of Lake Erie.
“A close friend of mine was running a tech firm in the midtown area,” Himmel says. “He’d vent about how frustrated he was with the lunch routine in his office. At 10 a.m., his developers weren’t writing code, they were debating where to get lunch from. The wasted time was a real pain point. Making matters worse, they’d bring in greasy fare that caused a 3 p.m. energy crash.”
Fast-forward to today: LunchOwl has 15 team members serving 60 Cleveland-area companies and about 1,500 workers per week from a 4,000-square foot central production kitchen near downtown, where ingredients and menu items from local farmers and producers are brought in to create fresh, nutritious lunches for hardworking office folks.
Executive Chef and Partner Ryan Beck, formerly of Cleveland fine-dining restaurants Greenhouse Tavern and Trentina, creates a menu that’s always changing, including healthy grain bowls, sandwiches, tacos, soups, salads and wraps. Through a price-sharing model powered by software that Himmel created, each company pays a few dollars per lunch, and the team members pay the balance.
The local Ohio bounty comes from such places as Rittman Orchard for fresh fruits and veggies, Philomena Bake shop for gluten-free desserts, Luna Bakery and Fire Food and Drink for more desserts, Cleveland Kraut for fermented foods, Wake Robin for kimchi, Stone Oven for bread and Gerber Poultry for antibiotic-free chicken.
The feedback LunchOwl is hearing from partner companies is overwhelmingly positive, and the retention rate is at 96%.
“What we’re hearing the most is LunchOwl returns time to your team, improves afternoon energy levels, improves overall wellness and helps attract and retain top talent,” Himmel says, adding that his company is built to serve modern companies taking a more holistic approach to HR.
“We designed LunchOwl for forward-thinking companies run by leaders who recognize that taking good care of people is both smart business and the right thing to do,” he says.
Besides a degree, another key takeaway from Tulane for Himmel was the rich food culture of New Orleans, especially the tradition of crawfish boils.
“That brings people together for a leisurely meal,” he says. “Coincidentally, the most meaningful benefit that our partner companies share after introducing LunchOwl is the camaraderie it builds. It brings their team members together to share a meal.”