Opportunity Knocks for Shane Delia
In the very competitive world of Melbourne restaurants, an interesting thing happened in 2020.
“The playing field levelled,” says Shane Delia. “Chefs and restaurateurs, rather than competing, figured out ‘we’re in the same boat, we’re facing the same issues.’” Delia, with his trademark energy and tenacity spied an opportunity.
“For a long time, we’d been considering how to diversify our offering, but I knew that UberEats and Deliveroo delivering our restaurants’ food was not the way to do it,” he says.
“We’d looked at catering, and a potential product line, we knew even before the pandemic that our business needed to grow in a way that didn’t rely on people walking into the dining room.” The cost of rent, dining room fit outs and kitchen equipment made the idea of further expansion prohibitive.
“The restaurant model has long been broken,” he says. “Rents are expensive, property prices are crazy, the talent pool is decreasing. So many factors are against you before you even open the doors.”
Delia decided he needed to assess his business assets, what did he have that was valuable, apart from the dining rooms, bars, equipment and staff?
“Our database,” he says. “Over 12 years, we’ve gathered several 100,000 customers’ details, and they’re really engaged with us. I thought, ‘maybe we can set up a little delivery business.’ I figured we could only feed 120 people in the dining room in an evening, but we could feed many more by getting the food to their front door.”
Building a delivery business where he maintained control over the customer experience was paramount. “I didn’t want our food to arrive sweaty and tepid, knocked around in a box on the back of a pushbike,” he says. “I figured the best model was for customers to finish preparing the dish themselves at home.”
He was also keen for greater reach. “I wanted to be able to deliver to a radius that was further than the five kilometres of the restaurant, our customers are from all over Melbourne, so we set up a little website, I got in touch with a mate who has a logistics company, and we started Maha Go, and it took off!,” he says.
Customers and industry peers started congratulating him on his offering.
“I figured maybe I could help more people than just me,” he says. “I thought this could be a way to help the premium end of the restaurant industry.”
Grasping the E-space
Delia used Melbourne’s first lockdown to learn about online marketplaces. A chat with Jason Wyatt and Sam Salter of Marketplacer, experts in scaling businesses into the digital marketplace, was key.
“Apparently what I was proposing was a ‘multi seller marketplace’, and I started to understand there were so many things I hadn’t anticipated. It wasn’t just chefs and logistics, apparently I needed data analysts and a best practice e-commerce platform!” he laughs.
The initial investment was a risk, especially given cash flow was much lower due to Covid.
“I felt an obligation to do everything I could to ensure the Melbourne hospitality sector would still be there to welcome people when they came back,” he says. “I figured, I’ve never been the best at anything, but I’ve always been the hardest worker, so I figured if it didn’t work, it wouldn’t be because I didn’t try.”
It worked. Having signed 10 initial restaurants, Providoor was born. “Each of those restaurant owners trusted me as a custodian of their brand,” says Delia. “That’s a huge responsibility, these are chefs and restaurateurs that’d rather stay closed than compromise their brand. I promised them that Providoor would be a premium offering and I would protect their brand at all costs.”
In Demand Deliveries
Providoor now delivers the food of 48 restaurants across Victoria, and another 180 sit on the waitlist. On the current list with Maha sit Flower Drum, Di Stasio, Cutler & Co and Movida. “Some are fielding thousands of orders a day,” he says.
Delia has hired 20 staff to run marketing and logistics. “We look after the Providoor brand, platform and logistics, and each restaurant still has ownership of their dishes and their packaging. They need to have that control to keep their brand integrity intact.”
By early 2021 he plans to roll out Providoor in Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra. “We’ll be delivering up and down the east coast,” he says.
His fine dining restaurant Maha in Bond Street, in Melbourne’s CBD remains. It reopened last November, and, in a vote of confidence for the city’s return to nightlife, so did Delia’s newest offering, Layla, on its doorstep.
Layla is a collaboration with the City of Melbourne, made possible by Mayor Sally Capp, who’s keen to open the city up using the food and drinks trade it is renowned for.
With plans for trucks to be delivering Providoor meals up and down the coast, the dining room at Maha reopened and Layla in full swing, 2021 will hopefully be a very different year. “Life is unpredictable, we always have to deal with adversity,” says Delia.
“The pandemic and the lockdowns gave us the opportunity to work on ourselves and our business. It gave us time to think, and plan so that hopefully, when we look back, we’ll see we’ve come out in a better position, maybe not financially, but certainly structurally and strategically.”