When serial tech entrepreneur Lucina Duncalfe was eating lunch in a deserted restaurant on a Tuesday afternoon in Philadelphia, a lightbulb went off in her head. Why couldn’t the restaurant make food during their slow period that could be delivered to customers? A few months later, Real Food Works was born.
Real Food Works is similar to NutriSystem but with fresh, never frozen, 100% whole food ingredients made with nothing artificial and low added fat, sugar, and salt prepared by select restaurants. Customers sign up for one of the subscription plans, which start at $92 for 5 meals per week, with a rotating menu of 30 different dishes each week. The meals range from breakfast choices such as Brown and Wild Rice Pudding with Apples to dinners such as Herb-Crusted Filet Mignon with Rustic Vegetables. Customers interested in using the service for weight loss receive weekly coaching sessions and can track their behavior and results.
Duncalfe likens the idea to Uber, which uses excess car capacity to fill a void in the marketplace.
“The restaurant has already paid for the kitchen, it’s all sunk cost so there’s not capital requirement, they already have the staff, they already know how to make great food, they already have the provisioning relationships in place, why couldn’t I just get them to do it in their downtime?” Duncalfe said. “They get the added benefit of recurring revenue and I’ve got no capital requirement and lower cost.”
While Real Food Works sounds like a food company, Duncalfe assures me that there’a a lot of technology that goes into managing the logistics and volume.
“Everybody in food thinks it’s a tech company, and everyone in tech thinks it’s a food company,” Duncalfe said. “It’s probably some of both, but primarily it’s tech.”
Duncalfe is no stranger to running a tech company. She’s founded and run a number of venture capital-backed technology companies, including ClickEquations, TurnTide (an anti-spam technology company acquired by Symantec for $28 million only six months after founding), and Destiny WebSolutions.
Real Food Works built the platform on Django to manage all of the orders and deliveries. The platform was built specifically for their needs to manage the more than 50,000 meals they have delivered since the company started two years ago. Customers have an online portal where they manage their account and select meals. After the meals are selected, the system aggregates the orders, churns them out and sends them out to providers. The platform also manages that life cycle, including the location of the meals, when they arrive, and how they are shipped.
While the restaurants are on the same platform, they don’t receive anything until the orders are aggregated. Duncalfe likes to give restaurants a lead time of four to six week so they can order the necessary ingredients, which many times are different than what are in their restaurant’s menu. The meals are then sent to a distribution center where they are picked and packed, as customers get different meals from different restaurants.
Based in Philadelphia, Real Food Works received an investment of $200,000 from StartPHL Seed $6 million fund. The fund was created between the City of Philadelphia and First Round Capital.