Indu Sudhakar said she and her husband, Caleb Askins, wanted more from food-delivery services than something “transactional.”
“We really want to put a face behind who’s cooking the food that the customers are getting,” said Sudhakar, who co-founded the Utah-based service Chefpanzee with Askins in 2017. “The idea was, like a traditional food delivery service, [to] make it more so you’re connected to different chefs in your area. So people who have cottage licenses or operate very small businesses, you can order from them, not necessarily just mainstream restaurants.”
The idea for Chefpanzee, which Askins thought up while in business school, was to create a third-party delivery app along the lines of DoorDash, Grubhub, Postmates and Uber Eats. But with a difference — the company exclusively supports local, Utah-based eateries, and does not cater to national restaurant chains.
The Chefpanzee app now has 44 restaurants and food trucks listed — with cuisines from India, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Japan, Jamaica, Mexico, Senegal, and more. “There are so many cultures represented here, and that’s something that was never part of the initial mission,” Sudhakar said.
Part of Chefpanzee’s mission is to cut delivery fees, boost its drivers’ salaries, and reduce costs for restaurants.
The company charges delivery fees between a penny and 99 cents, whereas the national companies sometimes may charge up to $5.99.
The app’s website claims to “pay our drivers better,” with a guaranteed rate of $18 an hour, and 15 cents a mile. According to Indeed.com, Uber Eats paid its drivers an average of $14.90 an hour last year, while Postmates paid $14.51 an hour and DoorDash paid $13.60 an hour; Grubhub paid about $25,000 a year.
Meanwhile, Chefpanzee charges restaurants a fee of 10%. Compare that to the national companies: Grubhub charges restaurants a 20% “marketing fee” and a 10% “delivery fee,” according to Ridester.com; DoorDash, Uber Eats and Postmates (which is owned by Uber) all charge restaurants between 15% and 30%, depending on how prominent the eatery wants to appear on the apps.
“Once COVID hit, it just became so clear how much some of the larger delivery services are kind of taking advantage of smaller restaurants,” Sudhakar said.
As the pandemic forced restaurants to close their sit-down dining areas and concentrate on takeout orders, those businesses found themselves relying more on the third-party delivery services. Some governing bodies have pushed back; the Texas Legislature passed a bill to require more transparency in billing, while the Philadelphia City Council capped fees those services can charge restaurants.
Suyra Bastakoti, owner of Himalayan Kitchen, a Nepalese restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City, said he experienced the national services’ changes first-hand — when one service, without warning, jacked up his partner fee from 12-15% to 35% last summer.
Other features of the national services also cut into his restaurant’s profits, Bastakoti said. With one app, he said, he has had issues with deliveries not being fully completed, or drivers not arriving on time. And when a customer complains, the services immediately credit them back, even if the kitchen packed the full meal before it left the premises.
“We lose almost 50%,” Bastakoti said, rather than the promised 30%.
“We wish we could leave those guys, but they control probably 90% of the market,” said Alain Mendez, owner of Cancun Cafe in Millcreek. (The restaurant also has locations in downtown Salt Lake City and Cottonwood Heights.)
Working with Chefpanzee, both restaurateurs said, was different.
Mendez praised the app’s customer service, which he said was easier to get in touch with than those of the national delivery companies. “If people would get behind these smaller [apps] like Chefpanzee, it would help small businesses in the long run,” Mendez said.
Bastakoti said Chefpanzee has “the best delivery people in Salt Lake City,” and he has referred other businesses to the service.
Chefpanzee’s low costs and flexibility were helpful to officials in West Jordan who established a new senior meal program last year. (Because it was funded by federal pandemic relief money, the program is set to end Jan. 14.)
Lisa Elgin, the program coordinator for West Jordan, said they went to Chefpanzee because “the big three — Doordash, Grubhub and Uber Eats — did not want any part of the program.”
“Even up to the government, people want to support local,” Sudhakar said. “We love to see that funding going directly into local businesses like that, so when we heard about it, we were definitely on board.”
For Sudhakar and Askins, self-described “foodies” who love to travel to experience different cultures through cuisine, Chefpanzee has evolved into more than just a way to appreciate local food.
“One thing we want people to know is there’s phenomenal food in Salt Lake City,” Sudhakar said. “I think a lot of times Salt Lake City gets a bad rep for not having good food, but it’s because [the good food is] at the small, local, hole-in-the-walls or food trucks.”
— Freelance writer Alexis Perno contributed to this report.