Starting Tuesday, a new food startup in New York City called Maple is aiming to put an end to the mediocre and lukewarm dishes that you've come to expect when you order for home delivery.

Co-founder Caleb Merkl says Maple wants to fix the two biggest complaints customers usually have: The time that it takes to deliver the food, and the quality of the food once it gets there. He, along with co-founders Akshay Navle and Will Gaybrick, want to set the bar higher: They plan to deliver high-end entrées to local customers in as little as half an hour. 

That's a tall order, given that the company has just 70 total employees and, at least for the time being, a single kitchen. Even so, it's garnered the attention of some big names in the food business: To date, Maple has raised $26 million in total funding from investors including Thrive Capital, Blue Apron's Matt Salzberg, and Momofuku's David Chang, who serves as the company's Chief Culinary Officer. Chang, who opened up his first restaurant in New York City's East Village in 2004, has since grown the Momofuku concept into 15 affiliated locations nationwide. 

Maple's menu, which will change daily, aims to be eclectic: It offers a selection of three meals, including a vegetarian option, a lean protein, as well as something more 'luxuriant' (one example might be flank steak tacos). Prices will range from $12-$15 per meal, and many of the ingredients are locally sourced: Greens come from Sauder Farms in Long Island, and tortillas from a manufacturer in Queens, for instance. Along with Chang, Maple has reeled in top-tier chefs including its Executive Chef Soa Davies, formerly of the Michelin-rated restaurant Le Bernadin, as well as Dan Kluger, Brooks Headley, and Mark Ladner.

The Plan

Executing on the promise of restaurant quality food in a short period of time involves patience and some pretty smart thinking on logistics, the founders said in a sit-down interview with Inc. recently.

Chef Davies, for her part, never thought that delivering entrees to a mass market could work as a business model: "I told them [Merkl and Navle] that they were absolutely out of their minds. It's mind boggling how many different things you need to juggle to make sure that the end result is a restaurant quality dish. In my experience with food delivery, there's a reason why people stick with just pizza." It was Chang, however, who ultimately changed her mind: "David kind of convinced me to look at it from a completely outside-of-box view," Davies said, adding: "The future of restaurants is to go outside of the brick-and-mortar, and why can't everyone have farm-to-table quality restaurant food delivered to your door at an affordable price?" 

In addition to its team of chefs, Maple will rely heavily on a unique, proprietary logistics system. When customers place an order, the Maple app will tell the kitchen which dishes are highest in demand in real time. It will also project what it expects to be popular in the near future, based on factors including the dish's demand curve, the number of people on the site, and the number of people viewing a particular dish on the site. The delivery team receives details on which trips to make first, based on the past history of how long it takes to reach a certain destination. (The app will also be able to account for oddities, say, if a street is blocked off for an event.)

Moreover, the app will constantly improve with more data, Maple's founders said. On the delivery side, "the phone is beaming back location and velocity every second so we know exactly where they [the deliverers] are and how fast they're moving. That goes back into the system so we're smarter next time," Navle explained. 

Though Maple ultimately wants to have 10-15 kitchens across Manhattan, it's eschewing the "land-grab mentality" and honing its efforts on just the financial district for now. "We're really focused on...[fixing] the broken system of online food ordering," said Merkl, which Maple plans to do one neighborhood at a time. 

As for getting Chang involved, Merkl said that that part was easy: "Everyone we talked to was like yeah, restaurants are screwed, you should totally do this. David's was just the loudest voice in the choir," he says. "He isn't concerned with where fine dining is going, he's focused on where food is going."

That would make sense for a self-proclaimed "normavore," whose own empire is grounded in what he likes to eat: normal food that's affordable and quick. 

Published on: Apr 28, 2015