BY KATIE LOTT | PHOTOS BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
It’s noon on a cold, blustery workday. You’re famished, but you don’t feel like bundling up to leave the office. And those 3-day-old leftovers you brought for lunch have long lost their appeal.
What if you could sample a variety of cuisines from local restauranteurs at lunch time, all in the cozy confines of your workplace? A fast-growing startup in Milwaukee is helping area office employees do just that.
Founded in Chicago in 2011, Fooda launched in Milwaukee in February 2018 with the vision of connecting local restauranteurs and hungry consumers through pop-up locations at office buildings and employers. To date, Fooda has pop-ups in more than 20 downtown and suburban sites.
“We contract with office building management and employers to supply grab-and-go lunch service in their locations, bringing in a constantly revolving group of local restaurant partners to serve fresh, affordable food,” says Claire Connelly, pop-up account manager for Fooda Milwaukee. On a given work week, customers can sample sushi, Mexican cuisine, Greek food and gourmet grilled cheese — all served up quickly, giving workers more time to eat and socialize with their precious lunch hour.
Jenny Shyu is owner and operator of two local Asian restaurants, Tanpopo Ramen & Sushi in Hales Corners and Greenfish Poké, located in the Mayfair Mall food court. Becoming a Fooda partner has expanded her clientele to people who never would have otherwise tasted her food. “This week, we served almost 80 people during one lunch at the Chase Center,” she says.
Like other Fooda restaurant partners, Shyu serves a fairly small menu as food items need to be largely prepared ahead of time and served quickly. “This week we had several varieties of poké — the tuna on fire [poké] is always a big hit — and also tested a new item that we don’t have on our restaurant menu yet, an umami and pork bowl. That one sold out!”
Shyu says that the partnership with Fooda not only increases her bottom line by growing her lunch business, but also gives her a way to test the market and connect with customers. “We always bring our business cards to our Fooda pop-ups,” she says, “and we invite customers to come and visit our restaurants.”
“Today at our pop-up I saw two people
who came into Tanpopo in the last week,” Shyu reveals.
Driving business back to local restaurants is part of Fooda’s mission, and their data shows that one third of Fooda customers will visit brick and mortar locations of its vendors. Fooda partners like the Gouda Girls food truck, Artisan Ramen, Margarita Paradise and Ouzo Cafe are reaping the rewards.
The service is a boon for employers too, who find that employees increasingly want fresh, healthy and affordable food options as part of their work perks. Fooda makes it easy. “Because Fooda operates on a revenue sharing basis with restaurants, employers can offer it to their employees at no extra cost,” says Connelly.
Fooda considers itself a tech company, gathering a multitude of data including what vendors and items are most popular at different locations, and even estimating how many customers can be expected at a pop-up on a given day.
“We get pretty close most days,” says Connelly. “Our data lets our restaurant partners plan for how much food to prepare and helps consumers by making their favorite restaurants show up more frequently at their workplaces.” An app and email communication keep customers up-to-date on the rotating restaurant schedule, lets them preview menu items and prices, and offers coupons and rewards.
With Milwaukee in the midst of a food renaissance, people are hungry for variety and quality. Thus, Fooda’s growth in Milwaukee has outpaced many of its other startups.
“Customers are loving it,” says Connelly. “To be able to explore Milwaukee’s foodie scene right from your home base — especially in the winter — has people really excited.” MKE