Piroshky Piroshky, as small businesses go, has a pretty high-functioning website. Right now, it opens with an embedded YouTube video explaining the bakery’s new sanitation procedures. Owner Olga Sagan says it stays updated with specials.
It even has its own built-in pickup and home delivery form, which is fully functional (if a bit more plodding than those Silicon Valley third-party sites—DoorDash, Uber Eats). It’s that form Sagan was trying to drive customers to last week when she came up with the idea for Catch22Delivery, a simple online hub for local restaurants offering delivery, takeout, or both.
In part, it’s a way to combat the rise of third-party delivery services, which have only become more popular with an entire city on house arrest. Those delivery apps often charge customers and restaurants exorbitant fees and have been under fire for underpaying contract drivers; there’s some history, in Seattle, of restaurants continually appearing on apps against their will. Bad reviews can reflect poorly on restaurants, even when the reason behind them is out of their control (it is, after all, excessively optimistic to order fries that you know will spend 45 minutes in the passenger seat of a Prius).
But with the growth of online food delivery, many restaurants don’t have a better option: They're “behind on tech,” Sagan says. “That’s why third-party platforms are so popular, and make so much money on the backs of those poor small businesses.”
In the week since she came up with the idea, Sagan and her team have built a website stocked with over 60 restaurants in Washington alone: Taste of the Caribbean, Pho Bac, Sugar and Spoon. If that feels feverishly quick, thank Piroshky Piroshky’s staff: Full-time employees are all still on board for the time being, many of them in new roles, from web development to office assistant. “We’re all doing absolutely weird stuff that I’m not used to,” Sagan says.
It seems to be working. Since the site launched on Friday, it's had over 12,000 unique visitors, Sagan says. Piroshky Piroshky and other featured restaurants have seen a bump in takeout and delivery orders (of 300 visitors to Pike Place Chowder's site in the past few days, 280 came from Catch22). It's already expanding. It will soon include businesses in Oregon, California, and Juneau, Alaska, organized on a nice interactive map.
Each restaurant on Catch22 has to provide its own delivery or takeout option, either in-house or third-party—Catch22 simply seeks to bring them together in front of a wider, hungrier audience, giving businesses control over the message and menu that customers see. Though Sagan is working to include businesses with nothing but a phone number, right now, restaurants have to have some semblance of a website. (Sagan asks customers to be patient when those sites are a bit “clumsy”—call the restaurant if you’re having an issue, don’t give up and resort to an app.)
As for whether Sagan will continue the venture when (if?) life returns to normalcy: Probably. It likely won’t be free for restaurants then. But she anticipates that whatever it ends up costing restaurants—maybe $20 a month?—Catch22 will still be a much more appealing option than delivery apps, both for businesses looking to hold on to tight profit margins and for anyone looking to “keep your money in your neighborhood.”
“We’re offering businesses the option to get to know their customer, to control the message, to possibly control the food all the way from the kitchen to the door,” Sagan says. “The point of it was to give businesses their power back.”