As restaurants struggle to adapt and observe pandemic protocols, one Bay Area food supplier has emerged as an app with a conscience. Since 2015, San Francisco-based Cheetah has delivered wholesale food supplies to more than 3,000 restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area, but in the midst of the pandemic, the wholesale supplier has extended a hand to the greater community.
The supplier has expanded its sales to individuals seeking bulk groceries, and introduced the #Foodgiving Movement, an effort to feed hungry communities and eliminate food waste by stocking mobile fridges throughout the Bay Area. These fridges are filled with leftover food from the Cheetah warehouse and are accessible at all hours.
In an interview with Local News Matters, Alexa Weiser, Cheetah's consumer operations manager, discussed Cheetah's evolution, the app and the company's ethos.
Q: What inspired Cheetah to launch the #Foodgiving Movement?
A: Cheetah is a wholesale food supplier with a warehouse in Pleasanton, where we stock the food we deliver to restaurants, businesses and consumers. We've been donating to different organizations around the Bay Area that run food pantries, including Open Heart Kitchen, Union City Family Center and SF Food Runners. While donating to these organizations helped us reduce a ton of food waste, we found that there was still some waste coming out of our warehouse. We were looking to get that waste number down to zero. After seeing what food suppliers in New York and Los Angeles had done with community fridges, we decided to launch something similar on our end. Now, folks who are in need can come and take what they need at a time that's convenient for them.
Q: How can Bay Area households and communities participate?
A: The best way to do that is to contact the Cheetah support team, and they'll forward the request to me. We're open to partnering with community centers, families or anyone who has fridges, mini fridges or freezers that they want to donate to the movement.
Q: Not only has Cheetah launched its giving program, but it also created its own grocery app. How does it work?
A: Back in March when the coronavirus hit, we had access to this whole food supply chain. People were in need, so we decided to open up the service to individuals who wanted to buy groceries as well. We now have 10 contact-free pickup locations around the Bay Area where consumers can place an order on our app for next day pickup or delivery. The pickups work like a drive-thru model. You pull up in your car, we place the order in your trunk, and you're on your way. You can also get deliveries to your house. It's a really great way to get bulk groceries at discounted prices, which we know a lot of people are in need of at this time.
Q: Cheetah has a "Too Small to Fail" documentary series. Why is it important to hear from service industry workers during this time?
A: Restaurants are obviously struggling a lot right now. Their volume is much lower. We felt it was really important for folks to hear their stories and find out how they can help. It's really empowering for them to be able to share their stories, so that people are aware of those who are working behind the scenes.
Q: Many of Cheetah's community fridges are decorated. What provoked the company's partnership with local street artists?
A: We're inviting local Bay Area artists to come and decorate our fridges. Right now artists don't have many platforms where they can share their work, so it helps them get more visibility, and it also makes the fridges more welcoming. We're currently working with artists (Kristine Brandt, Britt Henze and Juan Lopez) who have decorated the fridges with fun designs related to food. We hope to eventually host an auction where folks can buy the art that they're creating for these fridges. It's another way to raise money for the #foodgiving campaign and make sure people are getting access to the food they need.
Q: What are Cheetah's goals to further assist the food industry?
A: The restaurant industry is a tough one to survive in. Restaurants are looking for creative ways to survive and be original. A big part of what we're trying to explore as their food supplier is what we can do to help them. We're also hosting a lot of focus groups with restaurants to better understand which services they need, so we can try to expand into those areas. We hope their revenues recover soon.
Our mission has always been to help restaurants thrive. In March, we shifted our focus to the greater community, and I think that has remained consistent throughout the past few months. We want to continue to discover ways that we can serve the community and bring our services to folks in a way that's most helpful and adaptive to their needs during this time, given everything is changing very quickly. We want to make sure our service is aligned with what they need.
Editor's note: Story by Lydia Sviatoslavsky of BCN Foundation, courtesy of Bay City News Service. To view this article in its original presentation, visit LocalNewsMatters.org.