The options for food delivery services are getting as packed as the amount of restaurants available to hungry New Yorkers who don't want to leave their apartments to forage for food. But of all the newcomers, it's the innovative new concept behind Maple, which launches today in the Financial District, that's got menu surfers buzzing, thanks to a powerhouse team doing the finagling behind the curtain. Last fall, word got out that Momofuku empire builder David Chang had come on board with Caleb Merkl and Akshay Navle to reinvent the delivery wheel of depression by cutting out restaurants all together and creating their own travel-friendly meals from a special kitchen.
Thanks to a big influx of cash, the team was able to launch their new service today, offering a daily rotating selection of three lunch ($12) and three dinner ($15) entrees—tax, tip and delivery charges included—to diners below Chambers Street in 30 minutes or less. "With online ordering, the food quality generally really wasn't very good, delivery times and that part of the experience was really inconsistent and you're really faced with an overwhelming number of choices, and felt like that all came at a bloated price point," explains Merkl. "So our goal is to sort of tackle all of those things, and try to fix them all."
That process led to the inclusion of chef Soa Davies, a Le Bernadin alum who's written cookbooks and consulted for the HBO show Treme, to run the kitchen, with Del Posto's Brooks Headley and Mark Ladner serving as advisors. "Finding a balanced meal online was very, very difficult at an affordable price point. Typically you would have to go to the higher-end restaurants, pay $30 to $50 to assemble a roasted chicken, baked potatoes, spinach and then at that point, you're not really getting the restaurant experience for a restaurant-priced meal," Davies says. "So the idea behind being able to provide quality, sustainable ingredients to a mass-market kind of started to appeal to me."
"Then David was very excited about the fact that we could make a huge impact on how things are grown and how things are produced," she continues. "Just by simply saying this is our quality level, if you want to supply to us you have to meet these quality standards."
Though the meals sound virtuous, they also have the benefit of being very delicious, at least what I sampled during an interview with the team. Highlights included a tender Baked Arctic Char with a briny relish courtesy of green olives that arrives with a portion each of roasted fennel and leeks plus broccoli rabe. More towards the comfort food end of the spectrum, there's a Green Chile Enchilada with cotija cheese, which comes with a green salad for balance. Regardless, they all have to travel well, of course, which was why it took a hefty amount of trial and error to figure out which dishes wouldn't fall apart when taken over the bumpy cobblestones of Lower Manhattan.
Since Maple purports to change everything about the food delivery system, they've also developed an incredibly specific digital network to support not only the delivery people, but also the kitchen and expedition process. "When an order comes in, the system will decide which kitchen to route the order to based on availability of the delivery guy, availability of an oven, availability of the actual item that you want to order," explains Navle.
From there, the system also dictates which orders get made first, which riders receive which orders and the order in which each driver will deliver the meals. "Just because this place has the closest order doesn't mean that's the place where I need to go first," Navle continues. "You may be the oldest order, and someone else may be a younger order further out even, and so I need to take age and distance into account to plot the most optimal route for this particular delivery person."
The Financial District will be their launch point, but the team has no doubt they'll expand as user demand grows. "We're obviously going to cover all of Manhattan, all of the boroughs, but the order that we do that in... there's no reason we have to have continuous regions," Merkl reveals. "So if people in Brooklyn are like, 'This is a solution I have to have,' or people on the Upper West Side are saying, 'We need this,' we're going to listen to that." The service is accepting sign ups now.