CTO and Co-founder Suyu Zhang. Image via Chowbus

Chowbus today announced a $4 million seed round for its food-discovery platform. The round was led by Greycroft Partners and FJ Labs, with additional funding from Hyde Park Angels, Fika Ventures as well as individual investors.

Founded in 2015, the Chicago-based company bills itself as a food-delivery app that lets users “discover authentic, international foods.” Specifically, Chowbus focuses on Asian cuisine, which it gets to customers via three different methods: delivery, pick-up, and, its shuttle service. Right now, Chowbus is in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, NYC, Champagne, IL, and Lansing, MI.

Delivery and pick-up options function much like any other of their kind, and are available in all areas Chowbus serves. Delivery orders include a sliding fee that caps at $4.99, based on the distance. Slightly more unique, the shuttle service is basically a bus full of food that stops at specific locations across the city at scheduled times throughout the work week. Customers pre-order their meals, then wait for the shuttle to collect them. There is a $1 delivery fee for this service.

For example, in parts of suburban Chicago, anyone wanting an order via Chowbus would use the shuttle service instead of standard delivery. Rather than type their home address into the app, the customer selects a pre-determined pickup location, like the Taiwanese supermarket in the Naperville area of the city. Customers would then head to that market and wait for the shuttle bus to arrive. The shuttle is currently available in Chicago, Boston, Manhattan, and Philadelphia right now.

Chowbus CEO and cofounder Linxin Wen first came up the idea when he kept encountering high delivery fees as a graduate student at Illinois Institute of Technology. The platform originally focused on authentic Chinese dishes (Wen is from China), but has expanded over time to include Korean, Indian, Japanese, and Vietnamese, among others.

The company vets all restaurants on its platform, to keep food authentic and, Chowbus website says, “not the kind you find at the mall or an airport food court.” Before they can join the platform, all restaurants have to pass a blind taste test conducted by a Chowbus member.

Chowbus is somewhat uniquely positioned in the market, since it’s a food discovery app as much as it is a mobile order platform. Food discovery apps abound (Sirved, Zomato), and some are uber-specific (British StFood). Few, however, will take orders and deliver your food, or drive a van around the city that contains multiple orders. Chowbus further differentiates itself by focusing on continent’s food, and promising users high-quality, authentic versions of that food.

The company reported a 300 percent year-over-year growth rate in 2018, according to a press statement. It previously raised $1.1 million in a pre-seed round. Both rounds happened in 2018. The new funding will go towards further platform development as well as expansion to 20 new yet-unnamed markets this year.

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Jenn is a writer and editor for The Spoon who covers restaurant tech and food delivery, developments in agriculture and indoor farming, and startup accelerators and incubators. On the side, she moonlights as a ghostwriter for tech industry executives and spends a lot of time on the road exploring food developments in more remote parts of the country. Previously, she was managing editor of Gigaom’s market research department and was once a competitive pinball player. Jenn splits her time between NYC and Nashville, TN.

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