937 Delivers Puts Delivery Back into the Hands of Local Restaurants

a delivery person picks up food from a restaurant

How this Dayton startup is focusing on community and competing with delivery services

Offering food delivery can be a major burden on a small restaurant. From receiving and coordinating orders to paying partner fees to join services like Postmates, DoorDash or Uber Eats, joining the delivery party can be challenging. But amid the pandemic, these services are more necessary than ever. That led restaurateur Brian Johnson to start 937 Delivers, a service that keeps delivery local. A partner at Dayton’s Pizza Bandit, Johnson saw the need for expanding to delivery early in the pandemic. He recruited some food trucks and local businesses he knew, and 937 Delivers was born.

“I thought there was a big opportunity, and that was even in the summer when patio dining was still going on,” he said. “In October, when the cold weather hit, no one was doing outdoor dining anymore and it was like, ‘Wow, we need to do this now. Restaurants are going to have to close if we don’t get this running.’ We launched Nov. 27 with a core group of 10 restaurant partners and we’ve added six more since then with another few coming soon.”

Johnson expanded the idea into its own business when the project started getting bigger than the Pizza Bandit could handle. He took the idea to incubator and support organization Co-Op Dayton, where they helped him set up a cooperative business model owned by the partners and employees. Since their launch, Johnson said 937 Delivers has brought in more than $150,000 in revenue for the restaurants, employed 25 workers and has helped avoid $50,000 in fees for one of the big-name services.

“It’s all coordinated through an online ordering system with a decentralized workforce of dispatchers who coordinate from their homes and drivers who operate like an Uber Eats-style model,” he said. “It looks a lot like any other kind of ordering service. A customer goes onto our website and picks the restaurant. When they order, the restaurant and our dispatchers get a notification and our drivers are dispatched.”

The startup is all about benefiting the local community as well. Johnson said people would rather support businesses and owners they know than spend extra money on delivery services and give profits to out-of-state organizations, especially in a pandemic. So in a place known for its collaboration, 937 Delivers is capitalizing.

“Dayton is a very collaborative town,” said Johnson. “We’ve all learned to work together. So when it comes to getting restaurants on a platform together — which can be intimidating for a restaurant — we found that collaboration easy. Everyone is here to work together.”

937 Delivers aims to improve nearly every aspect of the delivery experience. For customers, restaurants and employees, Johnson and his colleagues are working to cut costs, keep profits local, improve the customer experience and preserve the reputations of restaurants who work hard to maintain them.

“With DoorDash or Uber Eats, almost a third of the sale goes to California — at that level, it’s not even really profitable for most restaurants and it acts more like marketing,” said Johnson. “For us, that number is down to about 8 percent, which stays in the community. So at that number, most restaurants are still able to turn a profit.”

The local delivery model has worked so well, it’s already drawing interest from outside of Dayton. Johnson said 937 Delivers is working on expanding its partners’ liquor licenses so they can deliver drinks with meals, and a partnership for grocery delivery with Gem City Market is in the works. They’re even toying with the idea of expanding into a local version of the transportation services like Uber or Lyft. And while they grow the successful venture, Johnson said their focus will remain on their employees and making their business model work for everyone.

“We’ve met with and chatted with groups in other cities to help consult and help them get their version going, and we’re actively looking to expand,” he said. “Right now, we want to make sure we’re sustainable and able to grow, but we’re going to be aggressive with growing our network. If we can find a way for the gig economy to actually be great for the worker, that’s the ultimate goal. Freelance work is helpful for some people, but comes with a lack of benefits and more. So if we can find a way for workers to get paid $15 an hour in the same sort of way, that’s ideal.”

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