Good Uncle comes to Newark
MANAGING NEWS EDITOR
A quick glance at the faded, cinderblock garage across from Rittenhouse Station on South Main Street brings a few ideas to mind: a pawn shop, maybe a mechanic, some kind of criminal headquarters.
But one will likely catch sight of the Good Uncle logo stretched across the building’s side, or a blacked out delivery van whipping around the corner alley. For most, this is enough to make any curious soul knock on the door ― they will not find auto repair equipment, but rather a state-of-the-art kitchen frying up some of New York City’s most prized dishes.
With no seating or in-store pickup, television monitors display customer orders ranging between chicken fingers from Sticky’s Finger Joint in New York City (NYC), to the “Real American Hero” sub from No. 7 Subs in Brooklyn. Customers submit all orders through an app, with pickups taking place at various “drop-points” around campus, in addition to individual deliveries.
Located at high-population areas, such as residence halls and apartment complexes, Good Uncle delivery vans run on rotations to these pre-selected drop-points, ensuring deliveries within several minutes of the estimated delivery time and eliminating delivery fees.
Newark marks Good Uncle’s second location, and co-CEO Wiley Cerilli said that the university was the primary draw, fulfilling all of the new-location criteria: a 300-mile proximity to NYC, a Division 1 school, a robust Greek life, a certain population density and a good lease.
To bring authentic dishes to its menu, the company forms partnerships with the restaurants themselves. Good Uncle chefs then undergo an extensive training process, cooking alongside the restaurant chefs and specializing in several restaurants’ dishes. Good Uncle chefs also return to the partner restaurants for periodic training updates.
Cerilli said that the company recently hired the former Vice President of Starr Restaurants, Erik Battes, a prominent east coast restaurant organization, as its executive vice president of culinary, who will oversee the culinary operations and food quality across all Good Uncle Kitchens.
“We have some of the best chefs in the world working for us,” Cerilli said.
The process of emulating restaurants’ menus involves more than just recipes and ingredients, however. To ensure that Good Uncle meets the restaurant’s usual standards, Good Uncle uses all of the same equipment — everything from kitchen supplies to delivery boxes.
The delivery app, which is currently only available on IOS devices but will be available for Android in January, also attempts to make the dining experience as virtually immersive as possible. Each dish contains a description, with visuals and stories behind the restaurants.
Good Uncle’s original location is located at Syracuse University, where Cerilli had completed one year of college before transferring, and also where, according to Cerilli, nearly 40 percent of all students have purchased food from Good Uncle. He anticipates similar success in Newark and at future locations.
“There’s a huge potential to innovate,” Cerilli said. “I believe we’ve found a blueprint for the way that a large percentage of restaurants are going to operate in the future, and that’s going to affect the way billions of people order food. There hasn’t yet been a restaurant to be profitable with the virtual-only model, but we’re profiting in Syracuse, and we’re going to here in Delaware.”
While these aspirations may sound lofty, a brief background on Cerilli might make them more convincing. After short-lived collegiate stints at both Syracuse University and New York University, Cerilli took to the world of tech investment, being a member of the founding executive team at Seamless, now known as Grubhub. Cerilli was responsible for the company’s marketing, and the university’s own somewhat controversial dining provider, Aramark, later purchased the company.
Cerilli said that the acquaintance with Aramark allowed him to see limitations of the university food landscape, with constrained brands, hours and options often involving a model that “makes the food good enough to eat, but not great enough so that everyone eats all of the food.”
While this experience would later work into the formation of Good Uncle, Cerilli’s next step was founding SinglePlatform — a digital marketing platform that worked with restaurants nationwide, identifying dining trends and helping restaurants go digital. In 2012, Cerilli sold the company for $100 million.
By this point a fixture in the growing tech-food investment world, Cerilli began to appear in numerous Business Insider articles, moving on to investment firm First Round and investing in upcoming tech companies, such as Uber.
But in 2014, Cerilli and fellow Good Uncle co-CEO Matt Doumar — a colleague from SinglePlatform — devoted their efforts to founding Good Uncle. With initial investments exceeding $2.2 million and subsequent success at Syracuse, Cerilli hasn’t looked back, planning to open the next location at the University of Maryland in January, along with several more campus openings next summer.
In more recent history, Cerilli stirred minor controversy during the election when, out of disagreement with now President Donald J. Trump’s campaign, Cerilli returned the investment of Jared Kushner. Kushner, the husband of Ivanka Trump and son-in-law of President Trump, had made a small investment in Good Uncle, which Cerilli returned in effort to distance himself from President Trump’s politics, according to a Business Insider report.
While the concept of campus food delivery may strike parallels with companies such as GoPuff and GrubHub, Cerilli said that, unlike competitors, Good Uncle brings top-tier restaurants that would otherwise be inaccessible. He stressed Good Uncle’s distinct health-oriented approach, with “kale across a number of our recipes,” in addition to bowls and salads.
With deliveries beginning nearly two weeks ago, Good Uncle has already had nearly 20 percent of the student body download its app, and the delivery vans can be seen making their rounds to local residence halls and apartment complexes.
Cerilli said that, to his knowledge, Good Uncle is one-of-its kind, which could mean it’s either “a really good idea or a really bad idea.”
“So much of building technologies is about timing,” Cerilli said. “I think that we’ve got the timing right… As long as we’re building something that’s big and affecting the ordering habits of potentially billions of people, then that will keep me really interested.”