There are two consistent stories that we are seeing unfold during this time of global pandemic and massive restaurant closings. First is that the traditional ways of the restaurant business are gone for now and any company that wants to survive in that space needs to pivot into something new. The second is that all the food that would have been used by those now shuttered restaurants needs somewhere to go.
Pepper sits right in the middle of that venn diagram. A few months ago it was a startup that helped restaurants streamline their food buying from multiple suppliers. With restaurants closing, Pepper’s original business plan was kind of shot. But because Pepper was working with food suppliers, it knew even though so many restaurants slowing down or ceasing operations, those suppliers still had food to sell. So Pepper did what any smart startup does in challenging times: it pivoted.
It quickly transformed its platform from business-to-business to direct-to-consumers. Pepper’s first market is the greater New York City area, and people in the five boroughs there can visit PepperGroceries.com to purchase seafood, produce, meat, cheese and even kitchen and janitorial supplies from the companies that used to supply restaurants.
Each of these suppliers has their own delivery trucks, and orders are turned around in a couple of days. Pepper currently works with four suppliers and is in talks to bring on more. For now, all the money a shopper spends on Pepper goes directly to the suppliers.
“All the proceeds are going to pockets of the suppliers,” Bowie Cheung, Co-Founder and CEO of Pepper told me by phone this week. “The general thing is to see how much relief we can provide to these [suppliers]. Drum up as much demand as we can.”
Cheung said that while the service is only available in the New York/New Jersey area right now, the platform can easily scale up and go nationwide. Pepper is venture-backed with an undisclosed seed round investment from Greylock Partners and Box Group.
Like so many things being upended by the coronavirus right now, one has to wonder whether this will be a temporary pivot for Pepper or a new normal both for the startup and the food suppliers it works with. As Cheung summed it up, “How and where does the industry go in a couple of months? I have no idea.”