Last week, a delivery app made headlines for selling pastries without the bakeries’ permission, as reported by the SF Chronicle. Amanda Michael of Jane the Bakery found her baguettes for sale on the app, even though she had already refused to work with them. “It’s more damaging to us than anything else. Someone either gets a stale loaf of bread or it looks like we weren’t able to fulfill the order,” Michael told the Chronicle. “The middleman never looks bad.”
Unfortunately, Grubhub, DoorDash, Seamless, Postmates, and others routinely sell food from restaurants without their consent. The practice is now illegal in California, thanks to the Fair Food Delivery Act passed in 2020, and the Chronicle talked to a lawyer who added that it’s likely a trademark issue, too. But that new law is not proactively enforced, so it’s up to the restaurant to follow up with a lawsuit. Clearly, this kind of situation still keeps happening.
In response to the recent news, a few customers reached out regarding the article this past week, curious to learn how Pastel prefers to do business. Our founders have held a strong opinion on this from the very beginning, as small business owners themselves, given that they also own Butter& bakery. Reacting to the news, “That’s so disrespectful,” says Ted Moran. “If anyone did that to Butter&, we’d be very upset and nervous.” Amanda Nguyen agrees, “It’s so damaging. It takes a long time to build reputation and trust, and it’s so easy to rip it down.”
Delivery apps that quietly place orders at bakeries and restaurants, then turn around and sell that food at a markup, do real harm to small businesses. Nguyen breaks down the concerns: It’s an image issue if the app slaps up a bad stock photo of a croissant. It’s a quality concern if they sell a stale baguette, smush a cake in transit, or defrost a pizza. And if one customer has a bad experience and posts a negative Yelp review, that directly hurts sales. “It took five years to build Butter& through meticulous care and attention to every single customer who came through our virtual doors,” Nguyen says. “To have that control and experience taken away without permission? It’s not okay.”
If you’re wondering why this keeps happening, Moran offers some fresh tech perspective. Despite the bad press, “Some investors encourage this approach,” he says. “Someone invests millions in a startup, and they want to see an impressive chart. So that startup spends as much money as quickly as possible to make that chart look like a hockey stick.” But by completely focusing on the customer on the couch, it’s destructive to small businesses. “You’re over optimizing for the customer. You want them to have this amazing experience, and you don’t really care about the cost of delivering that … ” Moran says. “That is the fundamental error that all delivery companies have made over the last 10 years.”
In contrast, Pastel’s mission is to support small food businesses, and that’s why we only partner with food makers with their knowledge and consent. We reach out to makers, get on the phone, and discuss in detail how their products need to be presented, stored, and handled. We provide a contract, which confirms we only take a 10% commission, compared to 30 to 50% cuts for apps or wholesale, and we pay within 7 days, in contrast to the industry standard 30 to 60 days. Long after a partner has signed, we stay in communication, and offer suggestions for how to optimize sales. At any point, a maker can take a break from the platform, and tell their fans why — whether they’re struggling with staffing or taking an overdue vacation.
“You guys are very transparent … ” says Angela Pinkerton of Pie Society in Berkeley. “And there’s no question of taking care of the product.” Thankfully, she’s never spotted her pastries on another app, but she was “horrified” to see this most recent delivery fiasco. Pinkerton is an award-winning pastry chef who at least for now exclusively delivers her popular passionfruit meringue and chicken pot pies through Pastel. At the recommendation of a customer, she actually reached out to us, chatting personally with one of the founders. Pinkerton says the pricing and contract were a “no brainer,” and her business continues to grow. She’s expanding her production kitchen and preparing to open a “pie patio” with slices of pie and mugs of coffee later this spring, so stay tuned for those hot details.
“It’s unfortunate that the same bad behavior keeps getting repeated by new delivery companies,” Nguyen says. But she insists there has to be a better way, starting with empathy and respect for the people actually making your food. And that’s Pastel’s approach: By putting small food makers first, and helping them grow and reach a broader audience across the Bay, the hope is we all get more cake.