Luke’s Local Is Cookin’—and Deliverin’
The locavore movement, once the realm of folksier foodies, is enjoying its place in the spotlight. An increasing number of us want our meals to be special, delicious, artisanal masterpieces crafted from simple and trustworthy ingredients. But figuring out how best to feed ourselves is a less-than-simple task. An otherwise routine trip to the dairy aisle can quickly become overwhelming as the opacity of agricultural practices and product labels has made informed decision making next to impossible. The goal of eating locally, affordably, conveniently and ethically often feels unattainable and voting with your wallet is increasingly complicated. Enter Luke’s Local, whose “mix between a CSA [community-supported agriculture harvest subscription program], personal catering and an artisan food shop” might get us a bit closer to this goal. In just four years, Luke’s Local has grown from its humble beginnings serving commuters from an unused ticket booth at a train station in San Mateo into a multifaceted operation that not only provides healthy food to families and offices throughout the Bay Area, but also serves as a sort of incubator for several of their fellow artisan food entrepreneurs. Through Luke’s Local’s website, customers create customized “Mealboxes,” choosing from a curated selection of seasonal produce, fresh meat and a rotating cast of prepared foods and pantry staples—all sourced regionally—and have them delivered to their door (as long as they live in San Francisco, the Peninsula or East Bay). The benefits include the convenience of having prepared meals on super hectic days, the fuel saved by reduced trips to the grocery store (deliveries are free for orders over $50), seasonal produce that you will actually eat, not to mention all of the good feelings one gets from living in line with one’s ethics. For Luke’s Local, sustainability isn’t just a marketing gimmick. Nearly all of their packaging is either recyclable or compostable and, taking things a step further, their delivery materials (specially designed cardboard boxes, ice packs and insulated inserts that ensure that the food stays fresh even if it doesn’t make it into a refrigerator right away) are reusable. According to founder Luke Chappell, nearly 75% of their regular customers leave the packaging out to be picked up by the delivery driver the following week. Keeping with their philosophy of sustainability, Luke’s Local also recently began in-house whole animal butchery, a vastly more efficient system than purchasing and distributing individual cuts of meat, as there is very little waste. For example, a hog from Rancho Llano Seco, only a couple of hours north of San Francisco will get turned into pork chops, bacon, chorizo, smoked ham, carnitas, stock, etc. In fact, taking into consideration both packaging and food waste, Mealbox subscribers may actually have a smaller “food footprint” than many people who buy all of their groceries and cook every meal at home. Headquartered in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco, Luke’s Local occupies 4,300 square feet, but they don’t do it alone. The 18-member team is joined by nine vendors in the affectionately monikered “Fox Den.” They run the artisanal gamut, crafting everything from spreads and dips (Bar Jars) and organic juices (SoW), to baked goods (Black Jet Bakery and Bread SRSLY). It would seem that shacking up in a kitchen with so many people could quickly get stressful, but unlike many commercial kitchens, it was designed to be a shared working space. Chappell set out to design the Fox Den as a “hub of artisanal food production,” a crucial component of the symbiotic relationship with his suppliers that he had long envisioned. Each member has access to the kitchen equipment, their own storage locker as well as space in the enormous walk-in refrigerator to stash raw ingredients and finished product. A very long table, flanked with benches, serves as a communal dining area and meeting/office space. Though the suppliers pay rent, they have a built-in customer in Luke’s Local, as well as the support network of their fellow vendors. Rather than viewing them as competition, Luke’s Local has a vested interest in their success. This business model, though a bit unconventional, appears to be working. Luke’s Local is growing every week with overall sales growth last year of 75% and projected 120% growth for 2014. Asked about future plans, Chappell replied, “We’re working on many projects this year that bring our customers closer to the work we do behind the scenes. Our monthly butchery classes are a great way for customers to come into our space, meet the chef’s team [Eric Ehler, Nick Rappoport, & Chris Gerwig], learn basic animal butchery skills and see how our weekly Mealboxes are created from start to finish.” Another exciting addition to the menu is a guest chef series, where for one week every month, a well-known San Francisco chef will lend one of their signature recipes to the weekly dinner kit. $25 gets you everything you need to prepare a delicious meal for two or three people plus a step-by-step recipe from the chef, all delivered to their door. According to Chappell, “The lineup for the upcoming months includes our close friends Adam Timney of Starbelly, Liza Shaw of Merigan and Matt Paul of Slow Club. We’re extremely excited to have this all-star bunch on board because they support many of the same farms and ranches we work with and share the same views of local and sustainable cooking.” Luke’s Local is also branching out to offices, helping companies to keep their employees and clients happy and healthy with their catering services. This growth, though rewarding, is not without hard work. Chappell explains, “The challenge we continue to face is how to strategically and pragmatically expand into new regions. As a small business we need to approach each expansion with a plan that makes sense both from a values standpoint as well as from a budgeting standpoint.” This philosophy, along with the deliciousness of Luke’s Mealboxes, left a very good taste in my mouth. For more information, please visit Luke’sLocal.com.