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Pivoting: from walking tour to cooking business

Helping people get a homecooked meal from their neighbor at their doorstep.

Photo of Filip Lazarevski
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A month ago I was making estimates for my company’s budget for the 2020 summer period. Calculating how many tours we’ll be doing, how many tour guides we need… we were even planning a tour guide exchange program to happen where you could meet amazing people, and introduce them to the beauties of your city!

In a matter of 24 hours, the world went upside down in front of my eyes.

On March 16th President Donald Trump released national guidelines to control the coronavirus, and in less than 24 hours San Francisco was one of the first cities in the US to declare “shelter in place.”  Meaning, you have to stay in your home, and you are allowed to go out only for essential needs like food or medicine. “We should all practice social distance,” they said. I’ve never heard of that phrase before. I was at Union Square at that time listening live to our Mayor London Breed giving the orders. While listening, I started having flashbacks from the past four years going to Union Square and doing the Free SF Tour. Meeting people from all over the world every day! Smiling faces full of life ready to go with me on a journey through the streets of Maiden Lane, the small alleyways of Chinatown, taste freshly made fortune cookies, laugh, explore the hidden gardens in the Financial District… Now, I can’t do my tour anymore, and it was for a good reason. I had to accept the fact that the Free SF Tour I created is shut down during Shelter In Place.

Our organization is small. We are only three people actively working. Two of us are tour guides and another friend of ours is managing everything else online from a distance. My friend Jose and I are the two tour guides living in San Francisco. As you all know, the rents here are enormously high. Meaning with the opportunities provided to me, even if I get a loan from the bank, I still can’t survive for more than a couple of months. We are now both jobless. So we started going back to setting up our priorities. What is most important in our life? Health!

So the question is: How to stay healthy, practice social distance, and make money to pay the rent?

Every time you come to these obstacles on the path to your dreams you have to turn back to learning. You have to accept the facts you are facing, see the resources you have, and learn what’s needed to continue making ends meet. You need not be afraid that it may get muddy on the way, and you have to get your ass out of that comfort zone and work!

About a year and a half ago I met Jose on one of my tours. We immediately became friends. He joined the training, and a month later he was doing tours in the city! Last year his tour was announced as the best Spanish Free Tour in USA and second-best on the continent by — a platform, containing free walking tours from all over the world. One day, Jose and I are walking on the 19th-floor rooftop garden where I was living at that time. The building is incredibly big! There are two wings and they are building another part that is like one third more of what they already have! One wing is 800 apartments! Jose was telling me he’s a chef in a restaurant and before becoming a tour guide he has a 10-year experience cooking in restaurants, events, ship cruises and even for private people as a personal chef.

So, an idea came out! 

How about cooking in our apartment where I live for the people living in the building! I was living in a converted living room in a 2bd/1b apartment in San Francisco! Yikes! But that wasn’t the problem. I even convinced my roommates how great this idea was, and they decided they wanna join in! The only problem was we were all busy in the mornings. My roommates had a job and school and Jose and I had tours every morning. It was the same time as we had to be cooking. The tours were already going well and I didn’t want to stop doing that. Now, with the coronavirus, things change. We don’t have any tours, but Jose and I are in the same apartment now, in a big community, and we just got this new apartment on the 29th floor in the main center of the city with an amazing 270-degree view of San Francisco Bay Area! Living with my best friends in the city I love the most…now that’s my dream!

We really don’t want to lose what we have, and decided to go for it! 

We decided to implement the idea we had come up with before, and create a meal plan system for the building we live in right now. We adapted it to the capacity of our kitchen. Jose made a schedule with two meals per day (vegetarian and nonvegetarian) starting from Monday to Friday, and we put a delivery time window for them to order. We need two people for the job. A runner and a cook. Jose is the cook, so he will be in the kitchen cooking all day. Because of the coronavirus outbreak, it’s very important he doesn’t leave the apartment. As for me, I don’t go in the kitchen. My job is “the runner;” everything that needs to be bought from the market has to be done by me. Every time I go out I leave the apartment with different clothes than the ones I’m wearing inside. I have to immediately pass through the restroom and wash my hands singing “Happy Birthday Oprah” two times. Jose made the menu of the week, wrote a wholehearted letter for our neighbors explaining our situation, and we put the letters out at their front doors. 

In the first three hours of having the letters out, we got 29 orders! Some of our neighbors just replied on Venmo leaving us tips and saying, “Thank you for doing this.” Others were asking us if they can tell their colleagues! We were mindblown from the responses we got! The next day we woke up early in the morning and started cooking for our neighbors! Jose was in the kitchen cooking, and I would deliver the food at their doorstep, and gently knock at the door. I go back six feet, and when they come out we say, “Hello” with a smile to each other from a distance. We then accept their payment on Venmo. In times with coronavirus roaming, this makes a lot more people stay home, not go out to pick up food and expose themselves. They don’t even have to catch the elevator, but just open the door, and your food is there; cooked by your neighbor minutes ago.

Is it legal?

Yes! We spent some time researching and discovered that this idea, with as many layers as it has, is, in fact, legal in the state of California!  So we continued onward! 

It’s a great feeling knowing that what we are doing also helps other people in our community.

While living in San Francisco I noticed that these people, despite the hardships we are all going through, still hold on to each other. We open the door for each other, even tell jokes in the elevator to strangers. We know we are all in this together, and we are very lucky to be here at this time.

I hope you are all healthy and safe wherever you are right now.

What is the need are you focusing on?

Our service provides a very convenient option for people to get their food at their doorstep, while at the same time reducing their exposure to the virus, by avoiding dozens of grocery store trips. We limit the number of hands touching the food because there is only one person handling everything with no-contact delivery service.

Which type of submission are you sharing?

  • Sharing an actual pivot your organization has already made

Describe the business pivot or adaptation in 3-4 sentences.

We pivoted from walking tour to home cooking and door to door delivery. It addresses the need to stay home in these times of pandemic. With this initiative, we are helping ourselves, our neighbors and building a stronger community in the building. It will produce door to door delivery system and network to connect neighbors in communities. This crowdsource delivery and cooking business can become a part-time gig for many people even after the pandemic is over.

Do you plan to implement this solution?

  • Yes

Describe the impact that this solution will create in the world.

This solution can be implemented only in specific states/countries in the world that have similar food laws like California. The impact I see is building stronger relationships in the communities, delivery service, and people caring for the elderly population by cooking or doing grocery shopping for them. In California the license to cook from home can be submitted online. By law, there is no need for an on-site inspection of the kitchen. The bigger the community in the building is the bigger the impact this initiative will have.

What is the name of your business or organization?

Club Comida - San Francisco. "Comida" in Spanish means "food". We are open for new ideas for a name =)

What does your business/company do? Whose needs does your business/company address? Who do you serve?

What is your profession?

Concept Designer

Where are you located (country)?

San Francisco, CA

Where are you located (region)?

  • North America

What industry is your business/company in?

  • Food Services
  • Technology
  • Transportation

How many people does your business/company employ?

  • 0-10

How old is your business/company?

  • 2-5 years old

Which classification describes your organization/business?

  • Concept/I have not yet formed an organization

What kind of stakeholders and partnerships are needed to pursue this solution?

  • Funding- Grants
  • Funding- Investment
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- Private Sector
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- Civil Society Groups
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- Grassroots/Community Groups

Do you need help building partnerships and finding partners?

  • Yes

If Yes to the above, please share 1-2 sentences describing the specific help you desire.

Mostly we need a lawyer to consult us about liability and insurances.

What do you think are the main barriers to implementing this solution?

We have to be sure to write all legal necessary documentation for this initiative to grow. Like agreements with cooks and delivery services.

If you are currently working on a pivot, what have you learned so far?

We have been doing this for 3 weeks and the results are incredible! People accepted the idea with an open heart thanking us for doing this. Within the first couple of hours, we had 29 orders! We finished the first week with 89 orders. During these three weeks, we strengthen the relationships with our neighbors, learning much about each other, and for some, we are doing their grocery shopping so they don't have to go out of the home. This Easter we had an email from one of our neighbor's sister telling us how much she loves our initiative, but at the same time how sad she is because she can't be with her sister for Easter. Through us, she made a surprise dinner for them with a dessert. When we deliver the food at their doorstep they were very surprised, but after hearing the story of how her sister ordered it, we saw tears in their eyes.

Are you aware of any open source efforts, hackathons or other collaborative efforts related to your solution? Are you participating in these efforts?


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