Absent are lottery tickets, smokes and beer.
Aisles, shelves and even a cash register are nowhere to be found.
Instead, shopping at Madison’s newest convenience store is done online or through an app.
Most customers choose delivery, but for those who live or work nearby, there is a storefront. It’s essentially a vestibule at 420 State St. with a window for pick-up orders that can include cans of soup, bunches of bananas and sleeves of bagels.
Forkful Market bucks the traditional convenience store model but its founder is hoping the idea can spread to other locations in the city and the Midwest.
Matt Howard, founder of EatStreet, says his new concept is designed to provide quick delivery of everyday grocery items within a 3-mile radius of the store. Grocery delivery is not new to Madison but Howard said most can take hours if not a day or two for an order to be delivered. Forkful’s goal is to have orders to a doorstep within 30 minutes and is counting on hungry college students and young professionals wedded to their phones and who value convenience over price.
“There’s demand here and really, no one is meeting it,” said Howard. “We think this experience of very quick, fast delivery of your essentials and grocery items is going to stand out in the market.”
The inventory of the store includes about 1,000 items. But instead of multiple brands and sizes of a particular item like at most grocery stores, Forkful typically carries just a single brand and size. Items on the app and website are contained in 21 different categories like canned goods, dairy and eggs, meat and seafood, produce, breakfast and deli. But they come at a price.
A sleeve of four blueberry bagels from Bagels Forever is $5. A 12-pack of Coca-Cola is $9, an 18-ounce can of Progresso chicken and wild rice soup goes for $3.59 while a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia is $6.89.
However, some of the better deals include four hamburger patties from Fox Heritage Farms for $7, a dozen eggs for $1.29 and a half gallon of Sassy Cow 1% milk for $2.79. Bananas are 35 cents each, Gala apples go for 79 cents apiece and a 2-pound bag of golden Yukon potatoes is $2.79. A 23-ounce Arnold Palmer ice tea and lemonade is 99 cents and a 7-ounce Banquet frozen beef pot pie is $1.79.
One of the categories is dubbed “bundles” and holds meal kits. A $25 pizza meal includes a pre-made pizza crust, can of pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese and a package of pepperoni. The $15 taco kit includes one pound of ground beef, flour tortillas, a jar of salsa, taco seasoning, a package of shredded cheddar cheese and a fresh Roma tomato.
“All of our pricing is baked into the delivery costs,” said Howard, whose drivers are employees not contracted workers. “Ultimately we want to give our consumers all of their staples but in order to run this profitably we need to be sure to charge a premium. We think consumers are going to realize that this comes with added costs to it but ultimately it’s the convenience that drives consumers to do it.”
Howard’s track record as an entrepreneur is well documented. He co-founded what is now EatStreet in 2010, a company that provides online ordering platforms and apps for restaurants. By 2013 the company’s products were being used by 700 restaurants in 20 cities and by 2015 had grown to 15,000 restaurants in 250 cities around the country and had raised more than $28 million from investors.
The company added delivery to its services in 2017 and today offers delivery in 25 markets in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Kansas while its ordering software is used by thousands of restaurants in all 50 states. EatStreet employs 3,500 people, most of whom are drivers, but has 250 employees in administrative roles, most of them in Madison.
Forkful is the first brand to launch under HungerHub, a new venture from EatStreet that will also include ghost kitchens as a way to offer food not usually found on EatStreet menus.
The first are in a testing and development phase and operating from a commercial kitchen in the back of 420 State St. They include Boxcar Birria Tacos, a Jalisco-born style of taco that’s rapidly gained popularity in the New York and Los Angeles food scenes; Papa di Parma, delivery-friendly American-Italian pasta dishes and sandwiches; and Clover Grains + Greens.
The chefs overseeing the projects include Jeffery Orr, the former executive chef at the Hilton Madison Monona Terrace and Shanna Pacifico, the former executive chef at the Graduate Hotel in Madison.
As with the ghost kitchens, Howard also wants to expand the reach of Forkful by creating more delivery hubs in the Madison area and in delivery markets already established in Kansas, Iowa and Illinois.
“We want to rapidly expand,” Howard said. “We want to be at the cutting edge.”