by Lee Hogan
Posted 4/28/2014 03:39 pm
Updated 6 months ago
Chef Shuttle was a small, restaurant food delivery company in Little Rock for about two years, but when young entreprenuer Ryan Herget and two friends purchased the company in January, they wanted more.
"We saw the bigger vision," Herget, the 23-year-old president of Chef Shuttle, said. "We saw there was a market for it."
Before Herget and his partners - Kyle Crossland, 22, and Wes Kirtley, 23 - came aboard, the company delivered food to Little Rock residents from less than 10 restaurants. Now Chef Shuttle delivers food to Little Rock, North Little Rock, Sherwood and Maumelle residents from more than 50 restaurants in the four cities.
More: Read a Q&A with Herget over at our sister publication, Little Rock Soirée.
Some of those restaurants include Big Whiskey's, Bruno's Little Italy and Bruno's Italian Bistro, Cantina Laredo, Corky's Ribs & BBQ, Las Palmas, Mexico Chiquito, Shorty Small's and Texas Roadhouse.
The growth has not come without its fair share of work, though.
"It's been seven days a week, 15 hours a day for the last four months," Herget says, "but there is not too much else I'd rather be doing."
The business has a straightforward idea: bring hot restaurant food to the homes of central Arkansas residents within 60 minutes for a $4.95 fee. Customers looking to have food delivered to their homes go to the website, scour the menus of the participating restaurants and place their order, which must be a minimum of $15.
From there, Chef Shuttle contacts the restaurant, the food is prepared, a Chef Shuttle delivery driver picks up the food and brings it to the customer's door step within an hour. Chef Shuttle has operating hours seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch and 5-10 p.m. for dinner.
Right now, the company has more than 30 employees, including more than 20 drivers. Herget says there's usually about five to six dispatchers working at a time, and anywhere between eight to 15 drivers stationed throughout the company's four markets, depending on the shift and day.
While it's a simple concept, Herget and his pals are capitalizing on it. Being in four markets in three months has "blown my original plan out of the water," Herget said.
To better prepare for the future, Chef Shuttle's three owners recently reached an agreement to enter into a partnership with Jason and Stephen LaFrance and Dan Andrews of Dale Capital Partners. The partnership is expected help Chef Shuttle's young owners with experience and capital.
Right now, Herget says the company is fielding about 60 orders a day between lunch and dinner service.
"I didn't think it would happen as fast as it did," he said. "I thought there would be a lot of growing pains and take a while to get our names out there. I didn't factor in if the customers are happy, they're going to spread the word."
Herget had plans to go into the insurance business. It's what his family does, and it's what his major was at Ole Miss. But a few months after the Little Rock Catholic alumnus graduated from the University of Mississippi, he was working to buy Chef Shuttle.
It all started when he met a driver from the company in October.
"I had this vision for the company," he said. "I knew where I wanted it to go, but I knew I would need a lot of help along the way to get there."
Enter Herget's friends: Crossland and Kirtley. The trio purchased the company in January, and immediately closed up shop. That made way for a transition period as the young owners changed everything about the company except the name. Everything from software, the website, the website host, the food bags, the logo and the color scheme has undergone a transformation.
"We wanted to make the culture and we wanted to make the company ours," Herget said.
It didn't take long for the trio to realize the potential that was present.
"We all realized we had something big on our hands," Herget said. "We all sat down and said 'what do we have to do to really make this thing work?'"
In just the second week of operation, Herget saw an opportunity to bring something valuable to the company, and had no plans of letting it slip by.
The business was beginning to gain traction, and that particular night, orders were picking up. Much like he does now, Herget said he was preparing to deliver a few orders and came across the name of Jason LaFrance of Dale Capital Partners in Little Rock.
"All of a sudden I saw Jason LaFrance pop up, " he said. "I put the dots together, and said 'that's the order I'm taking.'"
LaFrance says he was one of the few people using Chef Shuttle before Herget and his pals took over.
That February night he was impressed with the young entreprenuer that came to his home. LaFrance said he took the food out of the bags to make sure everything was okay before leaving. The meeting left an impression on LaFrance and his brother, Stephen.
"Our real attraction to the business was Ryan is an impressive guy," he said. "Kyle and Wes are as well, but I know Ryan better than anyone. When you meet the owner of the company because he's delivering at 8 o'clock at night to your house, that's a good sign."
After asking for LaFrance's business card, Herget followed up with an email a few days later, which led to a meeting in the days that followed. Ultimately, Herget reached an agreement to partner with the LaFrance brothers and Dan Andrews. The papers are expected to be signed this week, but LaFrance says they are already operating as partners now.
"Stephen and I just liked the story, obviously, we like the prospects from a business standpoint, but I loved that Ryan is a local guy, he's young, he's hungry, he hustles," LaFrance said. "He's working from 7 a.m. to 11 or 12 o'clock at night. He's just the kind of guy you want to be in business with."
In addition, to that, LaFrance is a real fan of the company.
"Selfishly, I just love the business, too," he said. "I love the fact we have a delivery option like this in Little Rock that we've never had."
With the partnership, Herget, Crossland and Kirtley are still in charge of the business, but the LaFrance brothers and Andrews provide help with business experience and financial backing.
Herget says without the partnership, Chef Shuttle would not have been able to expand into four markets in its first three months.
"Just having their support, having them there to help us grow, bounce ideas off of, we couldn't be more excited about the future," he said.
At the moment, the company has partnered with about 35 restaurants in Little Rock, about 15 in the North Little Rock and Sherwood areas, and three in Maumelle, although Herget said Chef Shuttle is focused on bolstering its Maumelle restaurants this week.
For now, residents of the individuals cities can only order food from restaurants within their zones, which are classifed as Little Rock, North Little Rock-Sherwood and Maumelle.
There is work being done to allow residents to order food from different zones. The main concerns include the logistics of trying to keep customers' wait times low and their food hot.
"We've gotten a lot of pressure, lately, to try and deliver between cities, or zones as we call them," Herget said. "That is in the works, and we plan to announce something in the next couple of weeks."
Chef Shuttle has many other future aspirations, which include plans to expand into Benton, Bryant and Conway.
First, the company wants to add more restaurants in its current markets before moving to other ones. Herget says Chef Shuttle hopes to be in the Benton and Bryant area by the end of May, and into Conway by mid-June.
"We're growing fast," Herget says, who says the company is adding about four to five restaurants a week. "We want to keep expanding, and we have a game plan mapped out, but it keeps changing because of the growth."
In addition, bringing a mobile application to customers is something Herget says is a top priority. It's hoped the app can be rolled out in the next few months.
In just a few months, Herget and his partners have been able to create a solid following of customers. It boasts more than 3,800 likes on its Facebook page. Still, it's the future that excites Herget.
"It's been a long journey, we've got a long ways to go and a lot more hours to put in," Herget said. "But just seeing it all come about this way, we're all excited."