Corporate food catering startup Chewse raises $19 million

Chewse,  a food catering and company culture startup, just announced a $19 million fundraising round as it gears up to expand its operations in the Silicon Valley area. This brings Chewse’s total funding to more than $30 million. Chewse’s investors include Foundry Group, 500 Startups and Gingerbread Capital.

Instead of plopping down meals in the office and bouncing, Chewse aims to create a full experience for its customers by offering family-style meals. In order to ensure quality, Chewse employs drivers and meal hosts so that it can provide them with training. Chewse also offers it drivers and meal hosts benefits.

“We initially started with a contractor model but then very quickly started to realize our customers often mentioned the host or the driver in their feedback,” Chewse CEO and co-founder Tracy Lawrence told TechCrunch.

“I know there’s a lot of other companies that are like food tech or logistics but for us, it’s all about elevating and improving company culture,” Lawrence said. “We have technology but we’re investing in it to create an exceptional real-life experience.”

“On the tech side, we’re using a ton of machine learning and algorithms to learn what people like to eat and create custom meal schedules,” Lawrence said.

To date, Chewse has hundreds of customers across three markets. Chewse initially launched in Los Angeles, but paused operations for a little over one year in order to focus on achieving market profitability in San Francisco. Chewse has since relaunched in Los Angeles, in addition to launching in cities like Palo Alto and San Jose. As part of the Silicon Valley launch, Chewse has partnered with restaurants like Smoking Pig, HOM Korean Kitchen and Oren’s Hummus Shop.

Within the next year, the goal is to double the number of markets where Chewse operates. But Chewse faces tough competition in the corporate meal catering space.

Earlier this year, Square acquired Zesty  to become part of its food delivery service, Caviar. The aim of the acquisition was to strengthen Caviar’s corporate food ordering business, Caviar for Teams.

At the time, Zesty counted about 150 restaurant customers in San Francisco, which is the only city in which it operates. Some of Zesty’s customers include Snap, Splunk and TechCrunch. Zesty, which first launched in 2013 under a different name, had previously raised $20.7 million in venture funding.

“Zesty is a direct competitor of ours for sure,” Lawrence said. “When we’re thinking about the things that set us apart from Zesty and ZeroCater, the investment in using the technology and building a meal algorithm — which is something we know they’re doing by hand — and then automatically calibrate when we’re getting feedback because we employ our hosts and our drivers. Yes, it’s more expensive for us but because it provides such a superior experience, we retain our customer longer.”

*Zesty has reached out to clarify it, too, has an algorithm at play to determine best foods and meals to serve.

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