It’s a catchy, mouth-watering name with a tantalizing taste of tech.
Hotchow.com is cooking up big plans to deliver the culinary treats of cyberspace through desktop computers or hand-held Web devices.
The Calgary company has just launched a Web site designed to allow the city’s rush-rush business community to order everything from pepperoni-loaded pizzas to gourmet dainties online.
It’s a dot-com twist on an old dish. Waiters En Route was launched 10 years ago by a team of Calgary entrepreneurs who envisioned a food-to-your-home-by-phone delivery service.
You’d call up a number, place an order for your tandoori chicken, pay a small delivery charge based on your location and get dinner at your door in a thermal bag.
Between 1992 and 1997, the company’s revenue jumped from $174,382 to $1,169,302, and Profit magazine named it the 111th fastest growing company in Canada.
But times have changed. These days, Calgarians are just as likely to log on as dial up to whet their appetites — especially at lunch. The original Waiter’s team, including co-founder Murray Heide, decided to set a new table – on the desktop.
“The Internet is ideal for someone who is at work,” says Hot Chow Network Inc. president Jomo Green, adding its customer demographic is “pretty much anyone that has disposable income and eats takeout and delivery.”
“Takeout is a huge business — massive.”
The service acts like a maitre-d’ who can help you decide what you want, and leaves the actual food service to the waiter.
You log on to hotchow.com, punch in your postal code, and order from a choice of restaurant menus. Hot Chow confirms your order, and faxes it directly to the restaurant, whose own delivery system takes care of the rest.
“The beauty about Hot Chow is you don’t need a call centre or a dispatcher, and you don’t need drivers,” says Green, adding there are nine employees compared to 30 at Waiters En Route. “Basically, we’re performance-based marketing.”
Michaela Marchand, general manager of 4th Street Rose, says the Hot Chow idea was a sizzler.
“I think it’s great,” she says, adding the restaurant was already part of the Waiters En Route network.
“We have long, cold winters, and business definitely slows down in the winter for most restaurants because people stay home a lot more.”
Most people in Calgary are Internet-savvy, or have a basic understanding how it operates, Marchand adds, so ordering online isn’t a big challenge. “I think it’s going to increase leaps and bounds over the next couple of years as more companies go towards it,” she says.
The company also offers the traditional phone-in service, and has delivered more than 57,000 menu guides city-wide.
When somebody orders by phone, Hot Chow collects a flat $3 from the eatery. When the order is placed online, it charges 15 per cent of the total bill. The online customer still pays the same price as the patron in the restaurant seat. Unlike Waiters, which focused primarily on established downtown-area restaurants, Hot Chow is setting its sights on including pizza joints and mom-and-pop Chinese eateries. There are about 30 restaurants currently listed on the Web site.
The challenge for the Hot Chow crew isn’t finding hungry customers — it’s trying to convince Calgary restaurants and fast-food joints that a digital market is worth catering to.
“The menu guide they understand,” sighs Jomo. “They have a cash register, pizza boxes and an oven. We’re trying to help them in their marketing, get them to a wider audience, and offer other mediums for others to place an order to that restaurant.
“We have to bring them along slowly.”
Takeout and delivery is big business in Canada, and the Hot Chow squad aims to take a bite out of the markets in Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg and Ottawa.
Billing itself as “Canada’s takeout delivery network,” Hot Chow has launched at least a dozen “Point, Click and Eat” billboards in and around downtown Calgary. Financing is its next major challenge.
“It’s been an interesting go, trying to raise financing on the private side, especially with the turn in the markets in the past eight months,” says Jomo.
“A lot of people have been hammered in the markets, and it’s very difficult to try and generate interest in our company or almost any other company. Now is a hard time to raise cash overall.”
But they remain optimistic, and have just signed on a board of directors to help guide them into what they hope will be a mouth-watering financial future.