Even though it was four years ago, I still remember sitting on the couch when suddenly I heard a strange beep coming from my computer.
Puzzled, I looked around the room (for some reason) wondering why the computer made that sound.
Then I realized: it was Food Runner’s first ever order.
There have been many, many beeps since that day. And hopefully there will be many, many more in the next four years and beyond. Those beeps, even the ones 2 minutes before we closed when I was the only driver, have become all-important to our family. And it was an unexpected path that got us here.
You see, Florida had not been kind to us upon our arrival. Like many families we had naively packed up our things and relocated expecting nothing but beaches, sunshine and happy times. Instead, Florida chewed us up and spit us out.
An unscrupulous homeowner in Stoneybrook conveniently forgot to tell us that the sewage system in his house was completely screwed up, resulting in our own waste flooding the downstairs level on multiple occasions, and standing water in the pipes likely emitting harmful gases through the various drains. One of the toilets bubbled endlessly.
Whenever we reported a problem, a normally shoeless and always shirtless unlicensed repair person named Frankie would show up to attempt to fix things. Sometimes he got it right, sometimes he got it wrong. He was usually high. Once he made an announcement that he needed to air out the entire house, going in to every single room opening every door. An obvious excuse to look for things to steal.
The homeowner blamed us for causing the serious plumbing damage and vowed to make us pay to repair it. But after the air conditioner went out and we refused to allow Frankie in the house any more, the homeowner’s father came over to check it out. After we explained some of the things we had been through in the house, the father told us that it wasn’t possible that we caused the plumbing problems because they’d been occurring in the house for years – and the homeowner was well aware.
Concerned about the waste, the gases and the homeowner himself, we filed a 7-day legal notice forcing the landlord to fix the problems or we would terminate the lease. A licensed company came and did a thorough inspection and told us that in order to correct all the problems they would have to trench through the concrete right through the house. No way it could be done in a week, so we were out of there.
That debacle was combined with a lightning strike that had fried the electrical system in our business back in the midwest, our main vehicle engine blowing during the move down, and the guy who sold us the business we bought in Fort Myers for income left out a key detail that would ultimately and assuredly lead to its demise.
Things had gotten so bad money-wise in 2013 that I had to get a part-time job. I became a delivery driver at the once-famous but now-closed Tim’s Magic Wok. It was there that I really discovered the concept of a Restaurant Delivery Service, since Tim was working with the only active RDS in Fort Myers at the time, GrubCab.
Inevitably things got better for us. It got to the point where I didn’t even need to work at Tim’s any more, but I stayed because Tim and I were planning to launch our own RDS. Going to work was no longer about delivering Chinese food, it was about quizzing GrubCab drivers and strategizing with Tim to launch Food Runner. Tim had stopped treating me as a delivery employee, but rather as his future business partner. It pissed a few people off in the restaurant, to say the least.
But for his own reasons, Tim decided not to participate in the new RDS. It was surprising to me because delivery was all we talked about 6 days per week for many months.
I had put too many brain cycles in to the idea not to go through with it. I was doing it with or without Tim.
Gateway Food Runner was launched on May 12, 2014. Tim’s Magic Wok closed not too long after.
I actually don’t even remember when we changed the name to Florida Food Runner, but I think it was within 6 months of launching.
We’ve had a pretty successful run, growing slowly but steadily and seemingly unaffected by tourist season. We don’t rocket up when the snowbirds come, and we have never gone down in the off-season.
Last week marked another major step forward for the business as we began partnering with restaurants in the main part of Lehigh Acres. It’s gone pretty well in this short period of time. Our first week we got about 3 times more orders than we did our first week in Gateway.
“But Jeff, I remember you moved out to Lehigh over a year ago to start delivering there and we all made fun of you.”
That’s right. Partly for school choice reasons and partly to expand Food Runner, I moved out to Lehigh and launched a different delivery concept under a different name, LehighAcresDelivery.com. It got off to an okay start, and was picking up new customers almost every day.
But about 8 or 9 weeks in to that project my dad was in a very serious car accident in Virginia.
Lehigh wasn’t making money yet, I had no way to staff it, and I obviously had bigger problems. I temporarily shut the Lehigh website down and within the hour was on my way to the hospital in Roanoke they had airlifted my dad to.
Through his service to the Canadian government he had this incredible insurance package. Once he was stable enough they paid for an air ambulance to get him to Ottawa where he lived and where my brother still lives. I headed up there a few days later, my first time back in Ottawa since I got my green card a decade ago. Unfortunately, he passed away in the hospital 2 weeks after the accident.
At that point, LehighAcresDelivery.com was closed permanently for family reasons. We moved back to Gateway in May 2017 as soon as the school year was over.
Fast forward a year and we’ve finally re-launched in Lehigh Acres. This time we’re keeping it simple and using the Food Runner name. I’m hoping it’ll break even for us within 3-6 months. Wish us luck.
Even though our lease in Cypress Pointe was up, we never thought about moving back to Lehigh. Not because we didn’t like it – because we did, plus no HOA crap – but because we might expand further out toward Fort Myers right after Lehigh gets settled. So living in Gateway positions us well geographically.
Speaking of HOA crap, the Cypress Pointe HOA is in the process of foreclosing on the house I rent. The owner has racked up about $4,000 in HOA dues and lawyer fees according to court records. I don’t know what will happen or how long I’ll be living here. So we’ll see I guess. I’ve not had the best luck renting in Gateway. Maybe you home buyers are on to something.
Anyway, I would like to thank all of you who have ordered from Gateway/Florida Food Runner. Even though we’ve always delivered to parts of Fort Myers and Lehigh that have larger populations than Gateway, this community has always been our number one source of orders.
To celebrate our fourth year in business, we’re offering free delivery all weekend! It also happens to be Mother’s Day on Sunday, so it’s a perfect time to have food delivered so mom doesn’t have to cook!
Please visit FloridaFoodRunner.com and use code HAPPY4 at check-out! The code is valid this entire weekend. Use it as many times as you like.
And thank you once again for all the support, everyone.
Also, thank you to all of our restaurant partners and all the friends we’ve made. We wish everyone success and hope you’ll be rooting for us to succeed in Lehigh and (hopefully) Fort Myers too!
Lastly, in the event you’re wondering why we didn’t wait until our 5 year anniversay to make a bigger deal, the number 4 has strong significance and meaning to our family.