If the kitchen is a culinary battlefield, Grain’s two chefs must be valiant warriors.
Two weeks ago, I decided to visit Singapore-based food startup Grain to get a better understanding of its operations.
For background, Grain is a food delivery service that caters to the busy working professional in Singapore’s Central Business District. It was launched about six weeks ago. As of August 20, it has served more than 5,000 meals.
Its opening hours are Monday to Friday, from 11 AM to 2 PM. Customers order online, pay via Stripe, and pick up their lunches at a specific timing or in 15 minutes’ time.
Here’s my experience shadowing the startup for half a day:
By 8 AM, chefs Ahjie and Isaac are ready for war with apron strings tied. Carefully, they sort out food items prepared last evening, knowing that most of the meals will have to be packed by 10.45 AM.
Most days, Grain’s menu is made up of two options. That very Thursday, the chefs were preparing Seared Flank Steak Salad with Blue Cheese and Assam Chicken with Black Rice.
I dropped by Grain’s office in Aljunied at about 10 AM. The chefs were already in their groove, dropping cherry tomatoes into plastic boxes, making sure every meal was top-notch. Music was playing in the background. Three out of the four Co-founders were in the work space area, toiling away on their computers until Gao Rifeng stood up to wash the cars.
The cars – all two of them – are especially crucial to Grain’s operations since another Co-founder, Yi Sung Yong (who is better known as ‘Sung’) and Gao cannot proceed with delivery without these vehicles. Appearance matters, especially in the business district where every man dresses with purpose and style, I thought, as Gao sponged away with enthusiasm.
At 10.20 AM, Zoey announced the time, and everyone picked up speed. Gao printed the labels for the packaging, and Zoey went about coordinating a photo-shoot for the meals.
“Do you guys take photos of the meals every time?” I asked. Sung said that they changed ingredients for one of the meals and thus, needed to update the website. Meals are planned two weeks in advance, so the team could better work out the sort of ingredients they need to order from suppliers. Ordering is still done over the phone, he said, which came as a surprise to me.
Other than healthy packed meals, Grain also sells cold-pressed juices that come with names like Madame Grass and Green Ninja.
By now it is about 10.50 AM. We were late! The first car, which carries fewer orders, should have already been deployed to wait in the Marina Bay area. But Sung – today’s designated first driver – is still in the office. There was an air of urgency in the office as everyone kept quiet and pranced about fulfilling their individual tasks. Three or four minutes later, we finally left in the black car. Gao will leave with another batch of meals later, Sung told me.
At 11 AM sharp, we were already on our way to our first stop – Marina Bay Financial Centre. There were a few other stops like Asia Square and One Raffles Quay. The first few orders were coming in, and Sung was accessing it all on Trello.
“You could build a whole custom dashboard in three weeks or just use Trello,” he said. Using existing technologies to help streamline communications is way more efficient for a small company of four at this point.
He also talked about how his team uses Trello to provide better service to customers. For example, new customers would be presented as tasks with a green label; these customers will then receive a handwritten card when they collect their meals.
Everyone is kept in the loop with WhatsApp’s push-to-talk voice messaging feature, which works well for communicating short messages.
Halfway through the delivery process, Gao and Sung would meet to make sure both cars have enough meals to last the day. At 12.16 PM, the duo met at The Sail @ Marina Bay. Orders were still coming in, but at a much slower pace as compared to an hour earlier.
During the downtime, I talked to Sung about the company’s current fundraising efforts. They are almost breaking even, he said, and don’t really need money, which is a great thing. However, if Grain intends to scale up, it will need more resources like manpower, for example. He does not have a specific amount in mind, he added, but it seems it is all about working with the right investors.
I nodded as I tucked into my box of Seared Flank Steak Salad with Blue Cheese. It wasn’t difficult to understand why there were many regular customers who order three to four times a week; the food is scrumptious, the service is warm, and the process itself is reasonably simple.