It was lunchtime for the 150 or so folks sequestered on the fourth floor of the courts tower at the Justice Center. Like my fellow Cuyahoga County residents assembled for jury duty, I was granted a generous window of time to escape the confines of our holding pen and scour the landscape in search of food. Many of my peers made the short, sad walk over to the courthouse cafeteria, where steam-table fare waited. I, on the other hand, perused the online menus of a handful of virtual food trucks from the comfort of my chair.
Sure, I could have left the building and trekked to any number of nearby restaurants, but by the time you add up the minutes it takes to pack up your stuff, walk to a restaurant and back, and wend your way through security, it doesn't leave much time for dining. Plus, it was freezing out. Instead, I opened up the ClusterTruck app, placed an order, and in about 20 minutes I was tearing into a large bag of food.
Since launching just 18 months ago in Indianapolis, this fast-moving startup already has added locations in Bloomington, Cleveland, Columbus, Denver and Kansas City, Missouri. The "disruptive" concept seeks to outdo all other food delivery outfits by employing one key tactic: They prepare their own food. Typical third-party delivery drivers are dispatched to a restaurant, where they have to park, walk inside, and grab an order that might have been waiting for them to arrive. Thanks to intelligent proprietary technology, ClusterTruck drivers are summoned to land the moment the food is ready. A super-tight delivery zone ensures that no journey is longer than 10 minutes from the company's kitchen on the eastern edge of downtown.
The most difficult part of the whole equation is deciding what to eat. ClusterTruck takes its name from the menu, a cluster of food truck-style categories like mac and cheese, tacos and burritos, burgers and subs, Asian noodles and rice bowls, pizzas and so on. Once the order is placed, the app shows its progress from cloud to cook to delivery. When the food hits the road, a text is sent to the customer, who can then track its journey IRT with an Uber-like interface.
I'm not kidding when I say that my food arrived too quickly on the first of three separate days of ordering. I was still up in the jury assembly room when I got the text that my food had shipped. Given that the kitchen is one mile away, my delivery driver actually beat me to the curb.
I included instructions for him to meet me on the east side of the Justice Center as opposed to the busier north side on Lakeside. To keep things moving, drivers don't leave their cars; they hand out the bag through an open window. Delivery is free; payment and tips are handled in the app.
Thanks to the breakfast-all-day "truck" called Lazy Breakfast, I was enjoying biscuits and gravy ($9.14) 20 minutes after placing my order. The creamy sausage gravy was packed in its own container to keep it steaming-hot. I doused the biscuits, popped the runny fried egg, and was enjoying a diner-quality breakfast in the lobby of the courthouse.
Over the course of three meals, and eight menu items, I learned that lightning-fast delivery makes up for many failings, but not all foods travel well. A Cobb salad ($10.82) arrived bright and crisp, topped with characteristic and colorful banners of blue cheese, diced turkey, chopped egg, tomato, crumbled real bacon and guacamole. The thin diner-style patty on a hamburger ($7.18), on the other hand, appeared grey and tasted tired. Despite an attempt to prevent steaming by loosely packing them in foil, tater tots ($4.20) had lost their crackle. Curly fries ($3.86), for some reason, held up much better.
A trio of shredded chicken tacos ($9.56) arrived hot, fragrant and delicious. The meat was tucked into twin soft corn tortillas, doused with a respectable mole sauce, and garnished with pickled onion, cotija cheese and fresh cilantro. Sides of pico and mole sauce are included. A 16-inch, medium-thick-crusted margherita pizza ($12.88) was dotted with puddles of fresh mozzarella, roasted tomatoes and fresh basil. It was not, however, properly sliced, leaving me and a few of my fellow jurors fumbling with plastic knives to finish the job.
ClusterTruck absolutely shines when it comes to food packaging, delivery, and ease of customization. Adding or eliminating ingredients is as easy as selecting or deselecting boxes. When the wrong salad dressing was shipped, I made a note in the app and they offered to send out a replacement. The app lets members of groups small and large order what they want, pay separately, and receive their food at the same time.
For folks within the trim delivery zone, ClusterTruck is a boon to convenience, variety and efficiency. But as with all delivered foods, there are winners and losers. Sorting them out will be up to the diner.