Business News

Farm to Dinner Table A potential partnership between Acadiana Food Hub and Waitr could be the breakthrough conscientious consumers have been waiting for.

by Nick Mouledous

There’s been a potential new development in Zack McMath’s vision for connecting local farmers with the hungry populace: delivery.

There’s been a potential new development in Zack McMath’s vision for connecting local farmers with the hungry populace: delivery.

In an April story, “Lowering the Cost of Buying Local,” ABiz covered McMath’s burgeoning Acadiana Food Hub on the northside. By providing turnkey consulting and storage services for Acadiana-area farmers and independent vendors, the food hub aims to break down many of the typical barriers to entry in the agriculture business. The operation has expanded to include sister DBAs Acadiana Commissary Kitchen, which provides certified kitchen space for mobile vendors, and Acadiana Incubator Kitchen, which serves to facilitate the development of new value-added products.

In keeping with the philosophy of making locally grown produce available directly to consumers, McMath is in preliminary talks with restaurant delivery service Waitr to take this vision to its logical extreme — home delivery of produce grown right here in our community.

“I attended a live interview between Zachary Barker of Opportunity Machine and Chris Meaux, the creator of Waitr App, about Chris’ plans for the future of the app development company,” McMath tells ABiz. “Chris mentioned they had considered incorporating virtual grocery stores that would allow products to be ordered and delivered to the home or office. This really got my wheels turning as to the potential for interface with produce aggregation. This would be the perfect way to help small producers and artisans grow their market.”

Lake Charles-based Waitr, which recently announced a major expansion of its Lafayette operations and plans to create 100 direct jobs, has quickly established itself as an in-demand service in the markets it serves. While the concept of a food hub is already uncharted territory in Louisiana, McMath sees home delivery as a piece of the puzzle he didn’t even realize he was missing.

It’s important to note that the two companies are still in the formative stages and haven’t yet reached an agreement, but both are excited about the potential collaboration. In McMath’s rapidly evolving vision, Waitr would be a mechanism to get locally grown produce directly into the hands of consumers as an integral part of a “virtual farmer’s market.”

A partnership between the delivery company and the Acadiana Food Hub would complete the value chain from farmers all the way down to end users. No longer would people have to wait until the weekly farmer’s market of their choosing to get their hands on that coveted local produce — they’d simply browse the available goods from their phones, place the order, and have their groceries delivered within minutes.

Waitr could also help spin up experiments in new restaurant concepts. Consider the high costs of opening a restaurant — the property, the inventory and the marketing just to name a few. In McMath’s vision, an aspiring restaurateur could rent space to spin up a new kind of pop-up dinner in the form of a virtual restaurant. For a few nights per week, the chef would do his cooking in the legally required commissary. He’d flip a switch within the Waitr software to signal to the public that the restaurant was available on a given night (presumably with some solid word-of-mouth backing it up.) Then, people could order the full menu for delivery directly from Acadiana Commissary Kitchen.

A successful few weekends via Waitr could help an entrepreneur make a good business case for his concept to a lender. “This would enable a perspective restaurateur to test his concept before a huge investment and maybe gain some credit they could leverage into their own location in the future, without the upfront risk of a full restaurant build out and lease,” McMath says.

Failure via this model would be much cheaper than going all-in and opening a restaurant. It could be a simple way for budding chefs to prove out their offerings in Lafayette, one of the most crowded culinary marketplaces in the world.

McMath sees his burgeoning operation as breaking down barriers to entry for farmers and artisans. The emerging professionals of today are increasingly dissuaded from the traditional corporate path, and self-reliance and entrepreneurship are now paramount values among young people.

As more determined visionaries strike out on their own in culinary and agricultural venues, the Acadiana Food Hub will nurture emerging business owners and serve as a launch pad for the next homegrown batch of big ideas.