Cafe Campagne chef-owner Daisley Gordon got himself a new set of e-wheels.
The Mobile Showman
It’s clear, even from across Fifth and Olive, Daisley Gordon isn’t your typical bike delivery guy, those rangy couriers who swoop through the streets with Jimmy John’s subs or legal filings in black messenger bags.
For one thing, Gordon rocks a curvy skate helmet in a shade of Day-Glo a flamingo might consider loud. On this rainy Thursday afternoon, he offers a cheery wave before pulling up on his Rad Power Bike, the electric conveyance that might as well be a Hummer next to other messengers’ fixies. Beneath that helmet, a houndstooth mask and perpetually fogged glasses obscure his entire face, and the fact that the guy delivering a lunchtime lamb burger beneath the shadow of the Monorail tracks is also the chef-owner of a 26-year Pike Place Market institution.
Gordon considered delivery long before the pandemic erased Cafe Campagne’s dining room—“it’s been increasingly challenging for people to come downtown.” Third-party services have been virtually the only way to do this, and Gordon figured out long ago that approach yields more work and a slimmer bottom line.
While Gordon’s food draws on traditions of the French countryside, his flash of delivery inspiration came closer to home. Namely, the electric bikes that help Domino’s Pizza drivers cut through traffic. “I should find a Domino’s bike guy and pay him $50 to pick his brain,” he thought to himself. Instead, he ended up talking to the company that supplies their wheels, Seattle’s own Rad Power Bikes. Gordon declared himself the restaurant’s e-bike guinea pig, mostly since it’s his name on the insurance. A 1.5-mile radius, he learned, works best for bikes. He consulted a map, selected some reasonably flat terrain, and recast destination-worthy Cafe Campagne as a neighborhood restaurant serving the density of nearby condos. The $50 delivery minimum means dinner here remains a more intentional act than impromptu couch dinner. Same goes for the food, like a wedge of crab quiche that still manages to be silky after its pedal from Pike Place Market to Westlake.
The bike sat idle for a few weeks this summer while Gordon sorted out his insurance. At last, the first delivery order came in—from an apartment building a block and a half away.
You better believe he rode his new bike.
The Accidental Courier
Lois Ko’s new career began with a hastily tapped message on Nextdoor. The shutdown was still a week away that day in early March, but the foot traffic that sustained her ice cream shop Sweet Alchemy, across from University of Washington, evaporated when the school took classes virtual.
Ko asked her Wedgwood neighborhood at large, Would anyone like me to drop off a pint (or two) of ice cream in front of their door? People could pay via Venmo. “Txt me for flavors!” she said, and included her personal cell number.
“It was really spur of the moment,” she says of that post. “I had a gazillion thoughts going through my head,” most of them about how on earth a business selling $12 pints of craft ice cream could survive in this economy. Soon after, her phone buzzed. Again and again. Three hundred people wanted Ko to bring Sweet Alchemy to their doorsteps.
Ko owned a Häagen-Dazs franchise for 10 years before starting her own shop. At no point in this career trajectory did she consider delivery; ice cream is about putting yourself where customers are.
Now, of course, customers are at home. Covid-19’s continued tear makes many shy away from unnecessary outings. But they still want ice cream. And burgers. And pomme frites and two-person negroni kits. Which means Ko and plenty of fellow business owners are looking for a viable delivery system that doesn’t involve giving a chunk of already-thin margins to a third-party app.
Today, Ko’s back seat rattles with coolers. Her first round of deliveries back in March took so long, she was still dispensing pints (and apologies) close to midnight. Early on, she shed tears of despair in her Camry between drops. Now her grasp of logistics—from mapping routes online to circumnavigating dogs—would impress a UPS ops team. Ko will escort a single pint to Lynnwood or Renton or Bellevue without charging a delivery fee. Most people, she says, order more.
She sets orders on the customer’s porch—Persian Rose and the chocolate-cookie-ganache DarkSide are favorites—then rings the doorbell and retreats to her car, watching to ensure someone answers. Sweet Alchemy still has three physical locations in Seattle, but “I feel like it will be this way for at least another year,” says Ko of her deliveries. “As long as we have cash flow, there’s still hope for us.”
This new routine can feel lonely, she says, after years of handing waffle cones to excited recipients. Sweet Alchemy now has proper online ordering, but some of the requests Ko received on her cell from those early days have bloomed into warm text threads. Often they center on a confessional photo of an empty pint jar, its contents devoured in one sitting; sometimes Ko texts back empty pint pics of her own. This new breed of regulars gives her hope, too.
The Reimagined Jeep
No matter what’s actually playing on its sound system, the Eden Hill Provisions Jeep will lodge just one tune in your head: Kelis’s “Milkshake” song, the one about bringing all the boys to the yard. This boxy, circa-1980 hardtop model, custom painted cotton-candy pink—a Barbie accessory writ life-size—does indeed lure anyone in its vicinity into their yards. Especially when the Jeep’s rear hatch swings open to reveal three milkshake spindles wired inside the back door and ready to spin.
Eden Hill Provisions owner Maximillian Petty deploys the Jeep to maybe three bookings a day, mostly socially distant block parties or birthday celebrations. Several Queen Anne neighborhoods have standing appointments for weekly milkshake pick-me-ups. The Jeep doesn’t venture much farther than three miles, since returning home uphill strains its 40-year-old system. The Trolls movie soundtrack gets heavy rotation. “It makes the kids happy, which makes parents forget about this nuttiness,” says Petty. He may have given pure joy a physical form, but the EHP milkshake Jeep was born under stressful circumstances: “It took the pandemic to make me just crazy enough to put so much work and money into something so silly.”
After the shutdown, his fine dining restaurant, Eden Hill, went dark as Petty and his wife, Jennifer, poured their fight-or-flight energy into their more casual, burger-centered Eden Hill Provisions. It quickly became one of the few restaurants in town handling its own delivery. The Pettys put their faith in their customers and dispatched burgers as far as Mercer Island and Bellevue with no official minimum, trusting people would place orders large enough to make the trip worthwhile. “They look out for us and we stretch for them,” says Petty. “We left it at that.” A great insurance agent—restaurants’ new secret weapon for pandemic survival—secured staff vehicle coverage they could afford.
Meanwhile, a vintage Jeep in need of repairs sat in the Pettys’ driveway, an impulse buy after the shutdown, vaguely intended for deliveries. The couple had been planning a fast-casual burger counter; as that plan became increasingly distant, and his staff became increasingly worn down, Petty regrouped. Whimsy and presentation were always the best part of dinner at Eden Hill; with that dining room still closed, the chef channeled those tendencies into a vehicle rather than onto a plate.
Now, half of Petty’s staff is “cross-trained” on the Jeep and vie for a turn as milkshake host; Eden Hill Provisions chef, David Glass, has been known to duck off the line so he can spin huckleberry cheesecake or root beer milkshakes. The restaurant charges $25 for the truck and doesn’t profit much off these outings, unless the organizer also pre-orders burgers and fries. Still, says Petty, he’s delivering the experience—and the hospitality—he once promised in his dining room. “If I went down, I’d rather have my ship sink with this kind of community support and enjoyment, than alone and not being creative.”
More Local DIY Delivery
Pho Bac Throughout the summer, a converted parking enforcement vehicle dubbed the Pho Mobile delivered noodle soups in novelty cups and eat-it-later kits within a three-mile radius of the restaurant’s original location. Proceeds benefit a pair of community funds that support Chinatown–International District.
Canlis Crab shacks and treasure hunts aside, the fine dining icon still makes the rounds. Former front-of-house staff members deliver multicourse family meals to customers’ doorsteps; it’s contact-free, but anyone who orders alcohol has to flash an ID through a window.
Bluebird Ice Cream Owner Josh Reynolds consolidates a week’s worth of pint and waffle cone kit orders and delivers them on Fridays across most of the north end. This streamlined approach works well for foods you don’t need to eat right that minute (see also: bagels).
Manu’s Tacos Manu Alfau’s excellent Pioneer Square taco counter is one of about 140 Seattle restaurants that’s signed on with Catch 22, a newly hatched local platform that offers visibility without the steep commissions. (And delivery is free with a $35 minimum.)
Pagliacci Seattle’s 40-year pizza favorite had delivery infrastructure in place long before the pandemic struck. The company has since paid it forward by purchasing items from other local businesses (ginger beer, loaves of brioche, so many cookies) as surprise giveaways for customers.