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.