ChewTyme has launched in Houston and Atlanta to approach the fast-growing food delivery industry in a new way. Photo via Getty Images

While Ashley Loveless Cunningham has advised clients how to fix bad credit and build a healthy financial life for years, a look at her family’s own spending on food delivery came as a wake-up call.

Like a lot of busy households, they loved to order food through delivery apps, so much so that Cunningham realized it was time for a change. With the delivery charge and other fees that apps like DoorDash and GrubHub tack on, a food order can easily double in price. A $15 bowl from Chipotle that her son liked to order cost almost $40 by the time it got to the house — and that doesn’t even include a tip for the delivery driver.

“I thought, wait a minute. This is ridiculous,” she says.

She says she brainstormed, and began to look into ways to offer an alternative, not only for consumers, but for minority-owned restaurants that were struggling to keep their doors open.

So, Cunningham, whose business ventures include her financial literacy business New Credit Inc. and a perfume line, created her own app, ChewTyme.

The app launched in Houston and Atlanta last Friday, and has drawn over 3,000 consumer downloads, which Cunningham says is a “pretty good” start.

Cunningham, 40, a native of Mobile, Alabama, says she moved to Houston with her family ten months ago, drawn by the opportunity to grow their various businesses. And, the city’s vibrant food scene offered another avenue.

“Everybody moves here to open a restaurant,” she says of Houston.

Extra support on the side

Through restaurant owner clients of her credit counseling business, she learned that many were struggling to remain open. A lot of the business owners aren’t aware of the many options available to them, in business lines of credit, assuming their own personal financial credit is in good shape.

That’s where the business education side of the app comes in, where restaurateurs will gain access to “Business University,” financial guidance for their journey in the industry.

“I tell people, it’s not only about cash funding. There are other resources out there, things we need to thrive in the business space,” she says, adding that this includes mentorship and publicity services.

Many restaurant owners told her they partner with at least two or three food delivery apps already. But she thinks ChewTyme will stand out.

“A lot of people I’ve talked to, they just don’t know where to start,” she says. Her partnership with the restaurants would solve that issue, helping restaurateurs create a “full, state-of-the-art profile” that guides them every step of the way.

While she's yet to onboard her inaugural Houston restaurants, the app has begun to draw interest, Ashley says, especially from entrepreneurs who need a cheaper way to scale their business growth.

Cunningham says ChewTyme offers a competitive alternative to many third-party apps, which she says charge anywhere from a 20-22 percent commission on a restaurant’s delivery orders. The app will charge a 17 percent commission, with no monthly fee, and a flat $4.95 delivery rate to consumers, whom she plans to attract with discounts and promotions.

She hopes to initially sign up 25 restaurants in Houston and the same number in Atlanta, during the beta run of the app. As they work out the kinks, she feels confident in expansion.

Her biggest challenge moving forward is hiring quality drivers, she says.

“That really scares me. People who want to work, who have integrity. I’ve heard horror stories because people literally pick up their food and don’t deliver it,” she says.

ChewTyme is working with contracting partners who are conducting screening and background checks for potential drivers, and onboarding restaurant owners with follow-up. Interested restaurateurs or drivers can request more information on ChewTyme's website.

Tapping into a high-growth market

Third-party food delivery exploded in popularity during the pandemic, and a 2021 McKinsey report found that food delivery more than tripled since 2017. Post-pandemic, the on-demand services industry growth hasn't waned.

The Texas Restaurant Association fought for a law passed in 2021 to prevent third-party apps from adding restaurants to a delivery platform without a financial agreement or partnership, according to Christine Robbins, executive director of the association. But now that relationship seems to have settled into a profitable venture on both sides.

Taj Walker, of H-Town Restaurant Group, which owns Hugo’s, Xochi, and six other local restaurants, says the apps don’t typically charge a fee unless the restaurant takes part in an app’s ad promotion of their restaurant.

An app’s commission can range from 10 to 25 percent, he says, which their restaurants compensate for by charging 10 percent more on app orders than in-house food. The apps have become an important revenue stream for some H-Town’s more casual eateries, especially Urbe and Prego, which are popular among younger clientele, Walker says.

While Cunningham’s main goal is to uplift minority entrepreneurs and communities, the app will be available to any restaurateur who wants it.

Coming soon — autonomous food delivery on Uber Eats. Photo courtesy of Nuro and Uber

Tech company inks 10-year deal with Uber to provide self-driving delivery service in Houston

automatic autos

Houstonians will soon be able to get completely autonomous delivery of their dinners, groceries, and more thanks to a new 10-year partnership.

Uber Technologies, Inc. and Nuro have cut a deal that will provide autonomous, electric vehicles for food deliveries in Houston and Mountain View, California, beginning his fall, according to a news release. A Bay Area expansion will follow, but Houston's no stranger to Nuro-powered deliveries. California-based Nuro has launched five delivery pilot programs in Houston since 2019 with partners Kroger, Walmart, CVS, Domino's, and FedEx.

With this new partnership, users will have access to meals, groceries, and other goods available on the Uber Eats platform — as well as the opportunity to support local businesses.

“Nuro and Uber share a vision in which technology can make everyday life just a little bit easier,” says Noah Zych, global head of autonomous mobility and delivery at Uber, in the release. “Nuro’s distinctive autonomous vehicles are a great match for the Uber platform, and this partnership will bring a compelling combination of innovation alongside the convenience, affordability and reliability our customers and merchants have come to expect.”

Nuro, which recently closed a $600 million series D round just under a year ago, is reportedly the first company to operate fully autonomous vehicles in three states —Arizona, California, and Texas.

“Our partnership with Uber underscores Nuro’s track record of partnering with the world’s leading brands to make autonomous delivery a seamless experience,” says Cosimo Leipold, head of partnerships at Nuro, in the release. “With our unique autonomous delivery vehicles and Uber’s phenomenal scale and reach, we can expand food delivery options from your favorite local mom-and-pop restaurants all the way to nationwide chains.”

The company tapped Houston as its first full-scale operational city. Nuro previously told InnovationMap that was because the city offered a wide range of variation in the infrastructure across Houston's neighborhoods.

"Houston is our first full-scale operations city," Sola Lawal, product operations manager in Houston, told InnovationMap in January 2020. "All eyes at Nuro are focused on Houston."

Autonomous Uber Eats coming soon — thanks to Nuro. Photo courtesy of Nuro and Uber

Coco bites into Houston. Photo courtesy of Coco

California company rolls into Houston with robot food delivery in 15 minutes

the future is now

Heads up, Houston: the robots are coming.

Coco, the Los Angeles-based business that offers a remotely piloted delivery service, has hit the streets of Houston with its food-delivery bots as part of its expansion to targeted markets. Fueled by a recent funding round that garnered the company $56 million, Coco has already launched in Austin; its expansion plans also include rolling out bots in the Dallas and Miami markets soon.

Here in Houston, locals can look forward to delivery at restaurants including Brookstreet BBQ, Rustika Cafe, Ruggles Black, and Trendy Dumpling, according to the company.

Here’s how it works: Customers place a restaurant order like usual, then a Coco bot — operated by a “trained pilot” — drives to the restaurant to pick it up. The restaurant staff loads the bot as soon as the food is ready, and Coco arrives at the customer’s door within 15 minutes. Each bot is locked until it reaches the customer, so no one can tamper with your pizza or egg rolls.

The company claims that compared with traditional food-delivery methods, its bots decrease the time it takes food to reach the customer by 30 percent, and that the service has an on-time delivery rate of 97 percent.

Of course, Coco bots won’t be zipping up I-10 for a long-haul delivery; they’re meant to work at shorter distances and on mostly pedestrian paths. As the company’s website notes, “A surprisingly large portion of deliveries are done within less than 2 miles. We believe there is no reason to have a 3,000-pound car deliver a burrito over short distances.”

Coco claims to have transformed the food- and beverage-delivery landscape in its home market of LA, where, as of 2021, the company says it was successfully operating across all major Los Angeles neighborhoods.

It’s Coco’s trained pilots and commitment to “perfecting the last-mile delivery experience” that helps set it apart from competitors, according to the company and its partners.

Since the brand’s official launch in 2020, Coco claims to have experienced “unprecedented success” and has quickly overtaken brands that have been testing similar concepts for years. The company notes in press materials that Houston stood out to the brand as the perfect location to continue its rapid growth. “Coco ensures that the customer is at the forefront of their innovations and is excited to support the Houston community by partnering with local restaurants and businesses to provide a more reliable, and consumer-forward option for delivery,” Coco adds in a release.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

OrangeCrate provides a locally-owned option for delivery. Courtesy of OrangeCrate

New locally owned food delivery app rolls into Houston area

orange you glad?

A new delivery app aims to give diners a locally owned alternative to the big national names. Meet OrangeCrate, an app that does things a little differently.

Unlike the national brands, each OrangeCrate affiliate is locally owned and has a specific geographic territory. Franchisee Cody Lee has brought the company to two areas of Houston, Fort Bend County and the greater Memorial area. Lee launched in Fort Bend on June 1 and will bring Memorial online August 24.

"We're just like UberEats or DoorDash, but we're locally owned and locally operated, so I have a lot of control and flexibility versus some of the bigger name brands," Lee tells CultureMap.

That flexibility starts with the cost restaurants pay to use OrangeCrate. While national operators might charge as much as 30 percent to deliver a meal, Lee says OrangeCrate's fees are typically half that, usually between 10 and 15 percent.

Customer fees start at $2.99 and go up depending on how far away from the restaurant they live. Most orders also have a $10 minimum.

In terms of control, Lee trains each driver personally and monitors them when they're working. Unlike other services, drivers may only make one delivery at once, and they're only allowed to make OrangeCrate deliveries while they're on the company's schedule.

"I can chat with them and understand if there's an issue and minimize the impact to the customer," Lee says. "There's a lot of control where I can maintain a lot of variables to ensure the customer experience."

From a user's perspective, the experience will feel familiar. Order and pay via OrangeCrate's website and app. A driver — wearing masks and gloves, of course — will arrive with a bright orange bag containing the food order.

Lee says that so far his biggest challenge has been building awareness of the brand and convincing restaurateurs that he's a viable alternative to the more familiar names. From his perspective, restaurants that promote his company can save money on delivery fees and expand their reach, which is particularly important at a time when some people don't feel comfortable eating in restaurants.

"Most people know the bigger guys," Lee says. "It's important to hear Orange Crate, and that we're a local option; we're also a cheaper option. They get the same or better service for their customers."

In Fort Bend County, Lee has started with a roster of mostly national and regional chains like Chili's, 5 Guys, and Chuy's, but he says he's trying to add as many local restaurants as possible. In the Memorial area, he hopes to launch with between 50 and 60 establishments.

"My focus is on local restaurants and earning their business," Lee says. "I will only be adding local restaurants as we go forward."

So far, Lee has seen enough growth that he's optimistic about the service's future. He's got his eyes on Galveston and The Woodlands as potential market for expansive, with Inner Loop neighborhoods in his long term plans.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Native Houstonian Sola Lawal is looking into how AI and robotics can help increase access to fresh foods in local food deserts. Photo courtesy of Nuro

Autonomous vehicle delivery service is driving access to food in Houston’s vulnerable communities

Houston Innovators Podcast Episode 42

When Silicon Valley-based artificial intelligence and robotics company Nuro was looking for a city to roll out its autonomous vehicle delivery technology, Houston checked off all the boxes.

From being located in a state open to rolling out new AV regulations to Houston's diversity — both in its inhabitants to its roadways, the Bayou City stood out to Nuro, says Sola Lawal, product operations manager at Nuro.

"As a company, we tried to find a city that would allow us to test a number of different things to figure out what really works and who it works for," Lawal says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's hard to find cities that are better than Houston at enabling that level of testing."

Since rolling out its first pilot program with Kroger in March 2019, launched three more across six of Houston's ZIP codes from Bellaire to the Heights, including pizza delivery from Domino's that was announced in June 2019, grocery delivery from Walmart that was revealed in December 2019, and pharmacy delivery that launched this summer.

Lately, Nuro's presence in Houston has expanded from these business development partnerships, and the tech company has started focusing on providing a service to the community.

"At the beginning of the pandemic, we started looking for ways we could contribute and help with the things we have — which includes a fleet of vehicles and product tools that allow that fleet to move around and do delivery."

This got Nuro in touch with the Houston Food Bank, and a partnership formed between the tech company and the nonprofit that has resulted in food deliveries across the city — including Third Ward and Acres Homes.

"That for us was eye opening as we went into those locations we started to understand and see that there really isn't any other grocery store that's in those areas," Lawal says. "It was a moment of reflection for us where we said, 'Hey, the AV works here. These are streets that are acceptable. What can we do?'"

In the future, Nuro, as Lawal explains, is moving forward these initiatives to use its AV technology to help increase access to fresh foods in Houston, as well as continuing developing the city as a leader in self-driving innovation.

"I think that autonomous vehicles are going to become an industry in the same way your standard vehicles are," Lawal says."One really strong way the Houston ecosystem and Nuro can partner is essentially building out the ancillary."

Lawal shares more about the future of AVs in Houston and the impact Nuro will continue to have on the city. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


You can order Mala Sichuan to be delivered thanks to newly launched Chowbus. Photo by Isabel Protomartir

Chicago-based food delivery app launches to serve Houstonians

introducing chowbus

A new delivery app wants to make it easier for Houstonians to access the best dishes from Chinatown. Chowbus, a nationwide service that focuses on Asian cuisines, has arrived in Houston.

Among the 80-plus restaurants available at launch, diners may use the app to order dishes from Chinatown favorites such as Mala Sichuan Bistro, Arco Seafood, and Ocean Palace as well as relative newcomers like Chengdu Taste, Chongqing Chicken Pot, and Meet Fresh. Deliveries are available from 11 am to 10 pm to points within the Houston city limits as well as to suburbs such as Pearland, Sugar Land, and Katy.

Customers pay a delivery fee that costs between $2.99 and $4.99 depending on their proximity to the restaurant, but the app does provide a bundling option that allows people to order dishes from multiple restaurants without paying an additional fee. True die-hards can subscribe to Chowbus Plus; for $9.99 per month, all deliveries over $25 are free and deliveries between $15 and $25 cost $1.99.

"We are excited to roll out our service to the Houston community," Chowbus co-founder and CEO Linxin Wen said in a statement. "The city is known for its vibrant culinary scene, which includes tons of great authentic Asian restaurants. We're proud to help Space City discover them."

Beyond helping restaurants expand their reach, Chowbus aims to be a good partner to its restaurants by providing them with analysis of best-selling dishes as well as high quality digital photography. On average, Chowbus claims to boost delivery revenue by 25-percent for restaurants on the platform.

"We're thrilled by the opportunity to partner with Chowbus," said Shanjian Li, the owner of Chongqing Chicken Pot, a Szechuan restaurant in Chinatown's Bellaire Food Street complex. "We hope this will help more Houstonians discover the flavorful dishes that we work so hard to create every day."

Based in Chicago, Chowbus has been a growth spurt. The platform now offers delivery from more than 3,000 restaurants in over 20 cities across North America such as Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, and Boston.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.