When John Allen started his third-party food delivery service Café Courier in Ohio in 1989, the landscape of the industry looked very different.
For one, the internet wasn’t a thing yet.
Secondly, app-based delivery services Uber Eats and Grubhub hadn’t been invented. They sounded more like things you might mumble in your sleep.
Today Café Courier is based in Bozeman and serves more than nine communities in Idaho and Montana.
And now one of those communities is Butte.
Café Courier started serving Butte in late July and currently provides deliveries from 12 different Mining City restaurants. In return for the partnership, Café Courier helps restaurants market their delivery option.
Here’s how the service works:
Customers order and pay for their food on the Café Courier website, via the company’s app or by phone. The menus are provided on the website, and customers are able to pay for the entire transaction with one payment. Deliveries can be residential, but Café Courier also delivers to hotels and offices.
Currently Café Courier has six Butte drivers, who are employees of the company.
Ashley Gleason, lead driver in Butte for Café Courier, explained that drivers get assigned deliveries through a mobile app on their phones.
Mother of a six-year-old son, Gleason says she likes the flexibility that the Café Courier job provides.
Gleason previously worked as a paramedical examiner and still works in the field on the side. But today Café Courier is her main gig and she finds herself making deliveries 35 hours a week.
“I love it,” said Gleason. “You meet a lot of cool people.”
According to Allen, Café Courier is one of the oldest continuously-operating food delivery services in the country.
He started the company in 1989 after graduating from Ohio State University in Columbus and working in sales for a few years.
One day, he happened upon a magazine article that touted the food delivery industry as the next big thing. And that’s when he got the idea of starting a company.
What came next was a trade show in Chicago, where he was connected with a woman who owned a third-party food delivery service in Louisiana. He traveled to Baton Rouge to check the business out. “And six months later we opened (in Columbus)” said Allen by phone Wednesday.
From the beginning, Allen knew he wanted to grow his business and serve multiple communities.
“I did go all in,” said Allen when asked whether he saw Café Courier as a side business or if he jumped in headfirst.
When Café Courier hit the scene in Columbus, Allen said, the company did all of its business by phone and by manually taking down customers’ credit card information.
What’s more, food delivery was mostly done in-house by mom-and-pop pizzerias, Chinese restaurants and large chains like Pizza Hut. Third party services like his were in the minority.
Eventually, Allen sold his first business in Columbus and moved to Bozeman, where he purchased an existing service and transformed it into Café Courier.
Through the years, Allen said, he’s had to adapt in order to survive in a changing technological landscape.
Café Courier rolled out its first website in the late 90s, back when most people used dial-up. The website was crude by today’s standards and few customers chose to use the website to place their orders. The telephone at that time was still king, but somehow Allen had a hunch that one day the internet would transform the way people did business.
Flash forward to today, and you’ll find a company that does around 92 percent of its business on its website or mobile app.
“If we wouldn’t have changed we wouldn’t be talking right now,” said Allen, reflecting on how the company has evolved over the years.
Despite the fact that Café Courier does most of its business online, customers are still able to place their orders by phone.
And that’s what sets the company apart, said Allen: you can still talk to someone on the phone at the company’s call center in Bozeman.
Customer service is a cornerstone of the company, he added, noting customers and restaurants can call the company directly if they have a problem.
“I think it’s very important,” said Allen. “We want that personal connection.”