CINCINNATI -- If you're often stuck in an office building during the busy workday, LunchLobby wants to hook you up with Greater Cincinnati's burgeoning lineup of exciting new restaurants -- at your own place of work.
"We provide popup lunch services in large office buildings … that have no other food service available," said Phil Leisure, LunchLobby's co-owner and director of business development. "People in the offices can't (always) get out, grab lunch, and get back in an hour."
Jeremy Reed, the founder, principal owner and "tech wizard" behind LunchLobby, started the company because of his own experience in the corporate world.
"Corporate lunch options are fairly uninspiring -- a seemingly archaic approach to business that relies on employees having limited nearby options," he said. "If employees cannot go to the restaurant, then we will bring the restaurant to the employees."
In what may sometimes seem like a saturated marketplace, LunchLobby is carving out a new space in the food business: It's connecting supply (restaurants) and demand (office workers) over its tech-enabled platform to create a three-way win. Restaurants earn new revenue by serving an untapped clientele, diners gain access to a multitude of local restaurants conveniently set up in their office buildings, and LunchLobby builds a business by playing matchmaker.
"The current restaurant model is rapidly changing, and LunchLobby is helping to facilitate what is most in demand -- convenience," said Brian Jackson, catering coordinator for Eli's BBQ.
Leisure noted LunchLobby works with mostly independent, chef-owner restaurants hoping to grow their brand and footprint.
"Getting their food in people's mouths is the best way to grow their brands," he said.
Josh Campbell, chef and owner of Django Western Taco in Northside, called it "edible marketing."
"It's great exposure for the restaurant throughout the city," he added.
Now in its second year, LunchLobby has amassed around 40 restaurants and 16 office buildings on its platform. John Kallenberger, who co-owns Roll On In, has had great success with LunchLobby.
"I've seen the customers coming into our brick-and-mortar afterwards," he said. "The best part is the easy process -- we can use their service when and where we want to."
The matchmaking begins with LunchLobby securing an agreement with the property manager to provide lunch service. LunchLobby carefully considers factors like building size and occupancy rate before adding a building to make sure there's enough business to make it worthwhile for their restaurants.
Restaurants on LunchLobby's platform can then view which buildings are available for the next 30 days and choose the buildings they want to participate in.
Customers who are registered online can peek ahead to see which restaurants are going to be at their office buildings and preview the menus. Restaurants usually offer streamlined menus, which Leisure helps to develop. Soon, he noted, LunchLobby will roll out an app to make it even more convenient.
"After we make the match, our job is to get as many (customers) in the building to sign up on our platform as possible," Leisure said. "We have a general idea what a building produces. Most buildings serve around 70 people and around 120 to 150 people in the larger ones."
Depending on the building and projected sales, restaurants pay LunchLobby a flat fee of anywhere from $20 to $150 to serve lunch over a two-hour window. The restaurants handle the food service and keep all of their proceeds.
Leisure said the restaurants are good about working together to vary the lunch offerings at the office buildings.
"Our brand is built on the relationship that our vendors have with the people in the building. The better the food, the better the service, the more reliable we become as a lunch source for them -- the more everybody in the building is going to participate."
In response to various property managers' request for office catering services, LunchLobby created a sister company, We Cater Cincinnati, in July. Vendors who participate in the lunch popups automatically get a digital footprint on the catering platform.
LunchLobby is also extending its platform to the budding entrepreneurs at Findlay Kitchen and MORTAR -- a huge leg up as this opens up the same opportunities to them as the more established restaurants.
"My outlook is to try and help as many other people as possible, and one day that approach to business will pay off," Reed said. "Our partnerships with entrepreneur-focused entities like MORTAR and Findlay Kitchen are equally satisfying for the same reasons -- we are providing opportunities for a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs that collectively contribute to a thriving Cincinnati business community."
For Leisure, a veteran in the food industry, LunchLobby is perfect for where he is in his career.
"I'm on the back nine of my career and I'm looking for a way to give back," he said. "We want to give the up-and-coming restaurant owners, the people chasing the dream, a voice in the marketplace."
Grace Yek writes about food for WCPO. She is a certified chef-de-cuisine with the American Culinary Federation, and a former chemical engineer. Connect with her at https://www.graceyek.com/.