After a year and a half of trying to make food delivery work, Feast mostly shut down. The few of us that remained focused on a new, smaller goal.
What’s the simplest product we can offer that will have the greatest impact on our customers?
We now distribute at our retail kiosk and limited local cafes to eliminate our biggest cost: delivery.
Dishes will have to hold for a few hours, which eliminates hot dishes, reduces the breadth of the menu and makes it more natural to settle on a fixed seasonal menu (vs. weekly/daily menu rotation). These simplifications enable a smaller kitchen team.
The food has changed in ways that ease operational challenges for us but make it less appealing to the customer.
Many beloved dishes are gone, the food isn’t as freshly-made, and the service is a lot less accessible, since our retail partners give us far less coverage than our previous delivery area.
And yet, with this simplification comes an opportunity to pivot the brand, to reposition ourselves for the new reality. A new Feast that not only retains our most loyal customers, but draws in a new audience.
& Soba Noodles
Food delivery was a money-losing business. We needed to find alternative ways to get food to the customer.
We tried batching geographically-clustered orders by stocking product on location, but no version of a “food locker” made sense.
This led us to micro-retail: a small kiosk in high-traffic remnant space too small for other retailers. A complement to our retail partners. A vending machine: an automated always-open food source.
The vending machine, alone, is extremely lame, even with online integration. We needed to draw customers in.
The kiosk is a vending machine + a fridge. Retail staff fulfill orders using a hidden fridge during the lunch rush, enabling each kiosk to hold 250+ items per day (vs. 60 in the vending machine).
Since the first kiosk was a trial project, the design was limited to a pre-fab wood enclosure for the machine and fridge, with a vinyl wrap on the walls.
The vinyl, being easy to produce, was ready before the kiosk, so the area where the kiosk would eventually cover acted as a teaser.
A small team of friendly staff greeted customers and could fulfill orders on an iPad running Shopify POS, with quick access to the dishes stocked in the hidden fridge.
Feast customers were accustomed to checking the daily menu in the app before deciding to order. To preserve that convenient experience, the new Feast website was the hub that tied the kiosk with the existing retail partners.
Instead of maintaining the old Feast iOS app, we made the new website elegantly responsive, adding some simple progressive web app features on Android and iOS to make it easy to save to home screen.
The more we worked through the challenges of retail, the more we realized we needed a real retail space. Something like a cafe, with seating. Customer-accessible fridges where the food could be seen and held in hand. A nice location, with good light. A space where the product experience could really come to life.
We found a potential space in Bay-Adelaide Centre, one of the busiest underground malls in the downtown core. Small, narrow, perfect for our needs.
The only catch: we'd only have it for one year. So permanent fixtures would be a waste, the design had to be minimal.
We designed a simple layout to pitch to the investors and property developers.
Rear storage and extra fridge (behind divider wall).
Graphic vinyl wrap covers the drywall divider wall and brings visual interest to the rear of the space.
Photo canvases from our 2015 launch party bring the origin story into the space.
Concrete walls are left raw, cleaned and sealed with water-based acrylic.
Simple waste disposal, bar and point-of-sale made of walnut plywood, removable.
Bar provides a way to dine in. Teal Tolix stools add colour and comfort for a quick bite.
Several inexpensive cord lights take advantage of the 16' ceiling, and provide a warm glow in the space.
But we didn't build it.
Thinking through where the retail space was taking us, we realized we’d strayed from our mission. This retail version of Feast was just another grab-and-go counter among many. And with lower-than-expected sales at the kiosk, we still weren’t a viable business.
It was time for us to move on.
The two and a half years I spent with Feast were intensely engaging and rewarding: the team effort, the constant desire to iterate and improve, the daily drive for incremental gains while keeping sight of the bigger picture.
Many great moments, and meals, among friends.