Craving food truck grub but too lazy to chase down your favorite meal-on-wheels? ClusterTruck can solve that dilemma.
The delivery-only restaurant, which already operates in six cities nationwide, will bring its food truck-style eats to Minneapolis consumers in early May. And in anticipation of the local launch, the company’s looking for “beta testers” who will receive free food for putting the newly hired Minneapolis cooking crew and drivers through their paces starting May 2.
ClusterTruck CEO Chris Baggott isn’t a foodie, per se. Instead, he used his tech background to address the “many broken parts” of third-party food delivery apps.
“The whole idea is based on timing of the food being cooked as it relates to the customers’ proximity and the delivery people,” he explains. Perhaps you’ve wondered why it takes 40 minutes (or more) for that Bite Squad order to reach your door when you live within minutes of said restaurant? Baggott says that’s because there’s no coordination between the preparation of the food and the proximity of the driver.
With ClusterTruck, when an order comes in, it pings a driver, who accepts the job and heads towards the ClusterTruck kitchen headquarters to pick up the food. If the desired dish takes six minutes to cook, the kitchen won’t start working on it until the driver is six minutes away. When the food is ready, it’s handed off, and the courier delivers it curbside to the customer. Because ClusterTruck’s delivery zone is limited to a six-minute driving radius, food stays fresh and hot. And as a result, orders are delivered in an average of 21 minutes.
“Our food is in fact designed for delivery,” Baggott said. “It’s never going to be on a plate. We think about the ingredients for delivery. We think about the packaging for delivery. We think about how to put the sauces together, how to make sure that the bun’s not [soggy]. Our first and only master is the delivery customer.”
ClusterTruck has a from-scratch kitchen that emphasizes farm-to-table ingredients. Baggott actually owns the farm most of the proteins come from and meets remaining produce needs through local farmers. ClusterTruck cooks do all their own prep work and make all the stocks, sauces, and dressings in-house.
Delivery drivers -- about 30 percent of whom are on bikes -- are as crucial to the operation as the cooks, and to hear Baggott tell it, it’s a pretty plum job. Because drivers return to the same kitchen between orders and know their next destination, they can fit more deliveries into a day than those working for a third-party delivery app. More deliveries equals lower turnover. And that equals more tips.
“If we have really, really happy drivers, we’re going to have a lot of them, and we will have enough drivers to make sure we give amazing customer service,” Baggott says, adding that ClusterTruck aspires to provide the “greatest gig economy job of all time.” He claims some drivers banked over $80,000 in a year.
Baggott talks about ClusterTruck with the enthusiasm of a commission-hungry salesman, but there’s no denying there’s a corporate-overload aftertaste to this whole idea. Baggott says he likes to partner with local restaurant groups that are known for longevity and trendiness, but he wasn’t familiar with any in Minneapolis when we spoke.
(We also had to explain to him what a Jucy Lucy is; he’d never heard of Minnesota’s most famous burger.)
Baggott compares ClusterTruck to the Amazon of food delivery: a slick system built specifically for the online customer. He also likens the company’s menu to that of Cheesecake Factory, which he cited as the “highest revenue restaurant on the planet.” (But really, when was the last time you truly craved something there?)
ClusterTruck’s approach raises as many questions as it solves problems: Do people really want food shuttled over like whatever impulse buy they just made on Amazon? Is eating no longer an experience to be savored but simply a means of efficient consumption? Isn’t supporting a hyper-local, hardscrabble culture of food trucks and their owners its own kind of satisfaction?
Who knows. Maybe sometimes, you do just want the fast, hot fix that you can devour at home in your PJs. ClusterTruck promises that whether you crave pizza, pub fare, tots, or tacos, they can satisfy the diverse tastes and dietary restrictions of individuals or groups thanks to 130 menu items from diverse cuisines, with entrées priced between $10 to $20.
If that’s the case, and you live within six minutes of 409 South Ninth Street in Minneapolis, you can sign up here to be a beta tester and enjoy all the free food, swag, and discounts that involves. Want to see if those ClusterTruck jobs are as sweet as they sound? Apply here.
As for the rest of us, we’ll just have to wait and see if ClusterTruck earns its wings -- or, more accurately, its wheels.