Fooda launched in 2011 with the simple concept of bringing restaurant meals to office workers. The idea came to the founders while working in an office building in the River North neighborhood of Chicago with few dining options. They decided to work with restaurants to bring in catering, and when they saw success, they knew they had a good business plan.
Today Fooda delivers and caters to buildings and companies in Chicago, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Nashville. And recently it began to fully take over corporate dining cafeterias. Earlier this month Fooda took over its second location—the corporate campus of Northern Trust in Chicago.
“There is a certain awareness of Fooda in the Chicago market, and when this opportunity arose we started to examine their offering more seriously,” says Martin Clarke, global head of corporate services at Northern Trust. “We were immediately impressed by the focus on fresh food. We very much like the idea of providing a variety of food offerings to our employees, provided by local Chicago restaurants that would provide restaurant-quality food to our staff at competitive prices.”
Earlier this month, Fooda redecorated and took over the existing cafeteria at the Northern Trust campus, previously run by Compass Group. It helped bring in dishes from a rotating roster of Chicago restaurants and food trucks every day. BRGRBelly, Taco Joint, Sweet Station, Café Vienna and Maria’s Brazilian Kitchen were some of the first to set up shop.
Steve O’Brien, vice president of Fooda, thinks his company model is the way of the future. “We’re providing something clients are looking for,” O’Brien says. “We’re providing a solution that’s cost-effective for the clients.”
“The Fooda model is unlike the legacy providers, whereas a cafeteria is generally unprofitable as a standalone operation, and they generally need catering to make it work,” O’Brien continues. “With our model, we’re able to deliver a profit-and-loss solution without having the need for catering or asking for exclusive catering from our clients.”
O’Brien, who worked for Aramark for 23 years, describes Fooda as “a logistics company that manages restaurants.” He believes that by bringing in restaurants, diners get to experience authentic, diverse meals they would never get to have with other foodservice solutions.
“As a chef, I can’t one day wake up in the morning and be an Indian chef, the next day be an Italian chef, the next day be a French chef and the next day be a Mexican chef,” he says. “That’s one of the struggles with the legacy program. They’re asking their chefs to provide authentic ethnic cuisine, whereas with us, we actually find the experts who can provide this authentic cuisine and deliver it through them as opposed to trying to have our chefs become the all-answering solution to the clients.”
Fooda works with about 120 restaurants in Chicago and around 600 across the seven cities in which it currently provides services. Completely taking over a cafeteria is a new program for Fooda. Currently, much of its business comes from office delivery, pop-up services in buildings without cafeterias and in buildings with established cafeterias run by other companies, including some work with O’Brien’s previous employer Aramark. In these pop-up partnerships, Fooda will often bring in a rotating group of restaurants to a specific cafeteria station, and the rest of the cafeteria remains the same.
Although Fooda and the restaurants it works with follow all food preparation and handling protocols typical in dining services, in every other way, Fooda hopes to operate differently.
“This is a new concept in providing variety and quality in a way that traditional cafeteria vendors are unable to deliver,” says Northern Trust’s Clarke. That’s exactly the message Fooda would like to spread.