Patrick Conner gets hungry sometimes. It happens to the best of us. About a year ago, he became both hungry and inspired, a less common combination that resulted in a website, deliverstl.com, and a fledgling business that it turns out is not protected by patents. The full-time attorney who specializes in tax and estate planning wanted delivery that night, and he wanted it to be easy. The only problem: There weren't a lot of options.
Later, he would learn that's untrue. Today, through the website he and his partners created to track down and sort food-delivery options by ZIP code, Conner tells Gut Check that the city currently has 580 options for lazy late nights. That's 580 restaurants he could have called that night, had he known then what it took his team about eight months to figure out. In the end, he called Jimmy John's. Gut Check talked to Conner about the motivation behind his website, the city's best bet for delivery food and the take-out guru's favorite delivery option (still Jimmy John's).
Kelsey Whipple: So, what late-night food craving gave you the idea for Deliver STL?
Patrick Conner: I'm an attorney. Quite frequently, we work very long hours, and I like the ability to look online and click a button and have things appear at my office when I get that hungry and just need convenience. It was helpful for me, too, and I thought that if I really appreciated the ease with which you could do that and wanted to facilitate it, there had to be other people who appreciate that, too. I had the concept in my head for quite a while before I knew I had an idea that was doable.
When did the site officially launch?
The launch was January 1 of this year, but we've been kind of flying under the radar until very recently, maybe late June. We had it available to the public but weren't officially opened because of some tweaks we needed to make. Our goal is to encompass every restaurant that delivers in St. Charles County, St. Louis County and St. Louis City, and we felt we currently reach that threshold, so we finally felt comfortable putting ourselves out there. Our goal at this point is 100 percent, and we think we've reached it.
The database looks extensive -- and tedious. What was the input process like?
That was the hard part. We started with easy places that we knew delivered, big ones like Papa John's, Pizza Hut and Dominos. Then we started working our way down to other types of restaurants, like Chinese restaurants. We just started looking at listings online and in the phone book, and we called them, talked to them about their delivery radius and input that information. We didn't necessarily tell them we're putting them into the service. It's free, and it helps them, and doesn't cost them anything. They're kind of getting a free service from us at this point. From there, we started looking at all available dining establishments in the area and tried to parse out which ones delivered. We didn't work on it full-time every day, so the initial core route took four months. Tweaking it was another four months.
Is this profitable? How are you gauging the website's success?
I'd hope it would at least cover the operating expenses for the servers and that kind of thing. It has been profitable enough to cover the existing operation costs, but we have not recouped the initial costs to begin setting it up. It's making enough money to cover the initial costs.
Do you ever worry that someone will steal your idea and reappropriate it?
We're definitely worried that someone could steal this. I'm not sure if it's a patentable thing, honestly. We hope to establish it firmly before other people can take it, but that is kind of a nervous issue, now that you mention it.
Where would you like to see the startup in a year?
Eventually we'd like to expand that greatly to the point where advertisers have the ability to advertise ZIP code by ZIP code so that you could type in your ZIP code and only receive ads that are targeted to your specific area. That would help the readers but also generate ad revenue for us.
We'd also like to work with businesses to add to their services. Say you operate a sandwich restaurant, and right now your customers can't order online and come to people's doors immediately with their delivery. A lot of places don't have that, and that's something we'd like to be able to do through our site. And if the whole thing works out, we plan to expand to other Midwest cities, like Kansas City or Omaha or Memphis, something reasonable and similar to St. Louis in some fashion.
What have you learned about the city's takeout trends while working on the website?
There are definitely areas that have more takeout than others. We're able to look at how many people are looking for foods in different areas through their use of their ZIP codes on our website, and you can compare ZIP code to ZIP code. The last time we ran that information, the south city area between Hampton and McCausland was getting the most hits on our site. I would say that right around the Richmond Heights/Brentwood area, that has the most delivery options. One thing I definitely have learned by heart is all of the city's ZIP codes. I also learned there are Chinese restaurants that don't deliver, which seems really strange to me.
What is your favorite place to order delivery from?
I know this sounds simple, but Jimmy John's is actually my favorite. It's not horrible for you, and you can order online.