At the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, I always try to fit in as many of the American Express Restaurant sessions as possible. Last June I dropped in on a panel discussion about seven threats facing restaurants. The No. 4 threat got my attention: home-delivered meals.
"I've been watching this trend," said Tyler Florence, the panel moderator and host of Food Network's "Great Food Truck Race." "As a restaurant consultant, I've ordered from companies like Blue Apron and Sun Basket. The box of ingredients costs just a little more than what it would cost to buy the same ingredients at a grocery store and just below a similar meal at a restaurant. The main reason they are gaining popularity is that people want an experience."
"We want to prepare a restaurant-quality meal that is delivered within four hours of being prepared to your door," said Mitch Yellen, majority owner of Altitude Hospitality Group, which includes Till Kitchen. "We've researched other meal delivery systems like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. We think we can do things better, and that's why we want to hear what you think. We haven't decided on a name yet but are thinking we might call it Tillivery."
Yellen is getting ahead of what Florence considered the No. 4 threat to the restaurant business. His plan is to sign up 300 homes with families of four or more in the 80924 area for meal deliveries on Mondays.
"Mondays are slow days for restaurants," Yellen said. "And if this catches on in this ZIP code we will expand our deliveries to other ZIP codes."
Although the concept is still very much in the planning stage, Yellen's culinary team has a start, which is what the focus group heard about. The basic meal will feed four and consist of a soup, salad, entree and loaf of artisan sourdough bread. The food is cooked and chilled (not frozen). The entrees are packed in oven-proof pans to reheat in an oven.
If you've ever ordered from one of those other meal delivery systems, you know that they generally cost $49.99 and that a prepared meal feeds four people. Because many of the meal boxes are shipped from out of state, there's the possibility of winding up with spoiled food despite a company's best efforts to keep food fresh during shipping. I know - I've tested several different meal delivery sources.
At Till's focus group, we tasted four soups, including meatball, tomato, Robolita (bean, vegetable and bacon) and kale. Salads included curry chicken, Caesar, kale and mixed greens. For entrees we tasted chicken scallopini, mac and cheese, green chili gnocchi, beef stew, pasta bolognaise and shrimp quinoa. All were well prepared and seasoned.
Surprisingly, the single most popular dish was, hands down, the kale soup. I probably would have passed on that choice had I not tasted it. I'm not a kale fan, but the smooth, mildly flavored comfort food had me thinking about a second helping.
If you live in the 80924 ZIP code and want to get in on the ground floor of this venture, you'll get other bonuses.
"Being in the first 300 customers of the Till family, you get perks," Yellen said. "For instance getting a reservation at Till on Fridays and Saturdays can be difficult. Being in on the meal delivery, we'll make sure you can get the reservation you want."
Cost per delivery is $49.99. As soon as the first 300 people sign up for the service, deliveries will commence.
Interested? Visit till kitchen.com.