You canceled your trip through Italy but you’re still craving gelato? You couldn’t attend your relative’s wedding in New Orleans but you’re dreaming of seafood gumbo? Or perhaps, like Goldbelly’s founder, Joe Ariel in 2011, you’ve just come back to Brooklyn from college in Nashville, and all you can think of are hot chicken, barbecue and biscuits.
“I would have given anything to get my favorite southern comfort food,” said Mr. Ariel, “And that was, in essence, the genesis of Goldbelly.”
The e-commerce platform he launched in 2013 with his wife Vanessa Torrivilla and two investor/friends unites food lovers all around the country with restaurants, purveyors and now chefs in 48 states (Alaska and New Hampshire, wake up!). Today, the ratio is 70 employees for more than 600 merchants and 6,000 products.
“But we taste everything,” said Mr. Ariel, eyes bright.
It is fair to say that food was always a focus for the young Joe Ariel, and even though his Israeli father cooked regularly, what really got the boy excited was the experience of a restaurant.
“My best buddy’s family had an account at the local Chinese eatery,” he said, “So I would swap my Dad’s kebab for beef lo mein take-out.”
It was during Hurricane Sandy that Mr. Ariel sent out the application form to Y Combinator, the startup incubator, and upon finding out later that they’d gotten accepted, the couple and the partners moved to Silicon Valley for three months. They would stay four years.
“I knew that food and emotions were inextricably tied together,” he explained “But I realized that ‘the best’ meant a different thing for each person and especially for each locale.”
To develop the platform, Mr. Ariel found the stories hiding behind the regional dishes so that food lovers everywhere could order dinner based on what they loved and not where they lived.
One of the earliest vendors on Goldbelly is the Loveless Café in Nashville, TN, started in 1951 by Lon and Annie Loveless on Highway 100. Nashville had recently became a hot bed for creative chefs but has also seen renewed interest for traditional Southern dishes.
“We just shipped hundreds of creamed corn, mac & cheese and hashbrown casseroles,” said Crystal Buttrey, Loveless Café’s Sales Manager. “But one of our greatest hits is the bacon sampler.”
Other old-timers on Goldbelly include Lou Malnati’s deep-dish pizzas in Chicago, Achatz Handmade Pie Co. in Michigan and Junior’s Cheesecake in Brooklyn. On the site, each vendor gets its own headnote or short story.
The platform manages the shipping process: “Most of our food makers have never shipped before,” said Mr. Ariel “so we handle all the logistics.” With high-level access to the carriers, most packages travel quickly and gets to where they are supposed to go.
Since coronavirus hit, Goldbelly has more than doubled its shipments. During the confinement, when neither restaurant hopping or travel was possible, more people recognized the emotional power of food. Restaurants are reopening for dine-in but celebrity chefs like Daniel Boulud or Marcus Samuelsson have also created “meal kits” albeit for a hefty price. And if you’re craving what Vogue deemed the best pizza in the world, Chris Bianco from Phoenix now offers four of his wood-fired beauties.
“The high price of deliveries comes mostly from the shipping costs,” said Mr. Ariel. “But everything serves four to six diners.” The concept is that a family or a small group can make a celebration out of a delivery from a favorite restaurant across the country.” It’s also a wonderful way to support beloved eateries in this difficult time.