It’s difficult to imagine somebody spending heaps of cash to build out a restaurant that doesn’t welcome diners. But that’s exactly what Chris Baggott and his team are presently doing in Cleveland. Located just east of downtown, this large commercial kitchen will have a chef, a cadre of line cooks, and a general manager. It will not have a dining room, servers or a bartender.
Welcome to ClusterTruck, a tech-driven concept built from the ground up to get hot, fresh food into the hands of delivery customers in around 20 minutes. While it sounds like the latest in a long, often disappointing line of food delivery services, ClusterTruck is completely different.
“The difference between us and the other food-delivery services is that we make all our own food, and we have this technology that we developed to streamline the process and get the timing just right throughout all stages of the process to make sure the food gets to the customer super-fresh,” explains Gwen Ragno, Digital Marketing Specialist.
CEO Chris Baggott relied on his years in the tech industry to attempt to solve the problem of long delivery times resulting in less-than-ideal food quality. Unlike traditional third-party services that pick up food from restaurants that might have been sitting in wait and drive them to the customer, ClusterTruck utilizes technology that works its way back from the drive time. If an order is estimated to take seven minutes to prepare, but the next driver is still 10 minutes out, the kitchen will wait three minutes to begin making it so that the two cogs synch up perfectly. To maintain food quality, an eight-minute drive time is established as the outer limit.
“The average time from when you hit the button on your computer or app and when you have food in your hands is around 22 minutes,” Ragno adds. “We start pretty tight [with the delivery area] and then expand as we learn how quickly the drivers are able to get around.” (See initial delivery zone here.)
Unlike traditional third-party delivery services, drivers do not have to find a parking spot, exit their vehicle, enter a restaurant, and deal with staffers to pick up the meal. Instead, ClusterTruck drivers pull up to the kitchen and someone hands them the order. On the other end, customers meet the driver at the curb. In return for their effort, customers pay no delivery fee. This is a cash-less transaction and the app lets diners track the entire process in realtime.
Drivers (and cyclists) are recruited in the same fashion as other freelance drivers. They are paid per delivery – and given the streamlined process, management says the gig is an attractive one.
“A lot of our drivers are disgruntled Uber and Lyft drivers,” notes Ragno. “One of the goals that we set out to do was to make this the best on-demand driving gig out there. They don’t have to have strangers in their car; they never even have to get out of the car.”
Corporate executive chef Tim McIntosh will oversee a local team that includes chefs, cooks and a general manager. Customers can look forward to a Cheesecake Factory-size menu of approachable dishes that span the day. There are breakfast sandwiches, nearly a dozen (meat and meat-free) salads, funky comfort foods like pulled pork-topped tater tots, grass-fed burgers, sandwiches and wraps, tacos, burritos and rice bowls, Thai curries and Chinese fried rice, pizzas, ice cream and beverages. Check out a representative menu here.
Launched in Indianapolis in 2016, ClusterTruck now has locations in Bloomington, Indianapolis and Columbus. Cleveland and Denver are next for the fast-growing company. Cleveland’s kitchen (1627 St. Clair Ave.) is expected to come online in mid-November. Interested parties can sign up to be “beta testers,” CT's version of a soft opening that offers free food in exchange for feedback. Sign up here to be a guinea pig.
Check out this video to learn more about the process: