Flavor Cycle and new opportunities for bike messengers
Restaurants are delivering new business to bike messengers as traditional income streams cycle out.
“I figured we could do something to get people used to bicycle delivery as an ordinary thing. That people could get their carryout food delivered by bike.”
The speaker was Peter DiAntoni, in an interview conducted, appropriately enough, while bicycling on N. Water St. with this reporter.
His business model has a couple of wrinkles that make it stand out in the marketplace, particularly his alliance with locally owned and operated restaurants, mostly in Riverwest and the East Side, where the city’s bicycle culture is at its most vibrant.
For the most part, the Milwaukee bicycle messenger industry still depends on filing court documents for law firms, making mail runs to the post office runs and making bank deposits. None of these are growth businesses, and indeed are giving way to electronic options.
But you still can’t electronically deliver food, DiAntoni figures. He hopes restaurant owners agree that bikes are the way to go.
“I got early support from Scott [Johnson] and Leslie [Montemurro] who encouraged me, and said they’d sign up” DiAntoni said, speaking of the partners whose holdings include Balzac Wine Bar, Bel Air Cantina, Hi-Hat Garage and Fuel Cafe, all charter members of the delivery service, which opened for business on April 2nd 2012.
“Bel Air is our biggest customer,” he said as his bicycle rounded a curve at N. Humboldt Ave., past the riverfront restaurant at the northwest intersection of N. Water St. A Flavor Cycle decal is on the front door.
Leslie Montemurro says she is pleased with the launch of the service. “It seems to be going well. We use them a lot, especially at Bel Air,” she said when asked later.
DiAntoni targeted Bel Air and the other restaurants based on their community involvement, proximity to each other and their likely customers, as well as for their bike friendliness and lack of existing delivery service. Not coincidentally, the restaurant corridor is familiar territory for his messengers, who tend to live nearby.
He also hopes his service will differentiate local restaurants from their competitors who tend to rely on automobile delivery service, even in this, the most densely populated portion of the state.
HOW IT WORKS
Other business models typically require a potential customer to place a to-go order with a restaurant, and, if the restaurant does not offer delivery, yet another order with a messenger service for the delivery, which may be cumbersome and difficult to coordinate, especially when it comes to pay for the order — and the delivery. More often, the potential customer just drives to the restaurant to pick up the order.
Flavor Cycle, in effect, cuts itself out of the loop by operating through the restaurant. A customer places a to-go order with a cooperating restaurant and gives an address. Once the food is ready, the restaurant calls Flavor Cycle and a messenger is dispatched. [List of Restaurants served by Flavor Cycle].
The messenger collects payment from the customer, with Flavor Cycle later settling accounts with the restaurants.
There is no delivery fee; Flavor Cycle takes its cut from customer tips.
Nor is there a need for a dispatch center (known as a “base” in delivery lingo), or for a dispatcher, for that matter, sparing a considerable amount of overhead expense.
“We use GoogleVoice,” DiAntoni said. This service allows a single number to ring on various phones. “When a messenger is on duty, calls to Flavor Cycle will ring on his phone,” instead of at a dispatch desk.
The Flavor Cycle delivery team is composed largely of off-duty bike messengers and others in the city’s tightly knit cycling community. Since these folks spend much of their time cycling anyway, it is no hardship to spend a few hours here and there waiting for the Google Voice to summon them.
Messengers ride their own bikes, but the company’s biggest asset is set to be unveiled this week.
It is a Danish Bullitt Cargo Bike, one of only a couple in the city. [A mate is in service at Breakaway Bicycle Courier Company.]
The machine was painted by Jason Sanchez of Sanchez Paintshop, [Slogan: “A Fine Finish for a Fetching Frame”], who dressed it up in white, with the pastel Flavor Cycle logo.
“We can use the Bullitt for large orders,” DiAntoni said. These typically include, but are not limited to, box lunches ordered for large groups, often in an business setting.
These corporate clients could be a key to the firm’s success, DiAntoni feels.
ELECTRONIC FILING THREAT TO CONVENTIONAL MESSENGER BUSINESS
Corporate clients, particularly law firms, have been the foundation of the conventional bicycle messenger business ever since the late 1990s, when bike couriers hit the streets here after nearly a century’s absence. Messengers usually make an early morning visit to their clients’ post office boxes, delivering the day’s mail before office hours, and often make late-afternoon bank runs to deposit the day’s receipts of some customers.
Traditionally, law firms have relied on bicycle messengers for timely delivery of case files to the courthouse. From the most complex of civil litigation, to the smallest of claims, it is very likely that the original documents were brought to the office of Milwaukee County Clerk of Circuit Court John Barrett by bicycle messengers. It is their responsibility to see that court documents are time-stamped by the clerk’s office. Any delay or failure to deliver a document in timely fashion could result in a case being dismissed, or other legal penalties being imposed, so the stakes are high.
The city’s bicycle messengers are often more familiar with the inner workings of the courthouse than the attorneys whose cases they file. They can also get through security a lot faster.
But the days of paper case filing are nearing an end in Milwaukee County.
On the same day that Flavor Cycle started business, Milwaukee County introduced its optional electronic case filing system, joining over a dozen other Wisconsin counties. [The US Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin instituted mandatory electronic filing (with a few exceptions) in July 2008, and it is used extensively in Federal Court.]
According to a press release, from Milwaukee clerk of court Barrett, “eFiling is the wave of the future for court systems in Wisconsin …It also offers potential savings to taxpayers in lower storage costs and other related processing costs.”
In an interview, Barrett said that his office is phasing in electronic filing, and that he still receives a number of paper documents. “But these documents take up an incredible amount of room, and manpower.”
Paper filing creates work for bicycle messengers, and DiAntoni, when asked if electronic case filing will eventually erode that business, says without reservation, “of course it will. Flavor Cycle opens bicycle delivery opportunities for other businesses,” as well as a chance for bicycle messengers to remain employed.
Devin “Dizzle” Tolleson, a bicycle messenger, works days for Milwaukee Courier Company, where court filings remain a staple in trade, despite the new electronic filing. He works some evenings for Flavor Cycle to supplement his income. He suspects that the county legal business will fade away over time, as it has elsewhere. “I haven’t been to Federal Court in months,” he said over dinner at a non-participating restaurant one evening. Just as he finished his meal, Google Voice summoned him.
“I’ve got a run to make for Flavor Cycle,” he said. “It’s a delivery from Bel Air.”