City Paper is not for tourists
Prescription Chicken has long been a nomadic food brand in the District. Co-founders Valerie Zweig and Taryn Pellicone launched their chicken soup delivery business in 2016, long before pandemic made takeout and delivery an essential service.
But being a delivery-only company comes with challenges—namely that third party apps can change their delivery radiuses at will, cutting brands on the platforms off from their customer bases. “We’re held hostage by the delivery companies and the radius they set,” Zweig says.
Fortunately, someone has always come to the rescue to allow Prescription Chicken to keep cooking their matzo ball soup for Washingtonians who need spoonfuls of something comforting.
“We personally have benefitted from the generosity of the D.C. scene,” Zweig says. When UberEats changed its delivery radius about three and a half years ago, for example, Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley let Prescription Chicken hole up at Smoked & Stacked in Shaw. “We’ve had a lot of people who when we’ve been in a pickle have stepped up. The camaraderie in the D.C. scene is amazing,” Zweig continues.
While Smoked & Stacked closed in 2018, forcing Prescription Chicken to set up elsewhere yet again, the company has made its way back to Shaw. “For lack of a better word, we’re launching a virtual food hall,” Zweig says. It’s located in the former Mason Dixie Biscuit Co. space at 1819 7th St. NW. Prescription Chicken is already open, cooking, and delivering.
TaKorean signed on as the first partner in the enterprise and will start taking orders on Tuesday. “The reality of how things are going for the next six to 12 months, with the cold weather and second wave of COVID, we spoke to a bunch of our maker friends,” Zweig says. “The TaKorean guys are excited to extend their delivery radius.”
“It’s a great opportunity for us because it’s cheap and it has a lot of reach,” says TaKorean founder Mike Lenard. He knows the neighborhood well—he used to have a shop on U Street NW that closed in 2018.
“U Street didn’t work out, but this conceptually could take all the best parts of that and make it executable for us,” he says. “We know that there’s excellent opportunity for delivery and takeout sales. It’s a hard new world with all this stuff, but it’s all about your radius.”
Lenard and the founders of Prescription Chicken are looking for at least one more food business to join their virtual food hall, which doesn’t have a name yet. “The right partner could be a baker or a bartender,” Zweig says. “It’s a cool opportunity because it’s totally turn-key. The guys up in Glover Park are doing this. I think we’re going to see more and more of it.”
Restaurateur Aaron Gordon launched D.C.’s first virtual food hall in Glover Park earlier this month. Ghostline houses close to a dozen chefs trying to get their product out to Washingtonians without paying the overhead of an enormous dining room that won’t fill up during the COVID-19 pandemic. Customers can order everything from ramen to fried chicken to Indian khichdi. D.C. will likely see more of these ghost or virtual food halls crop up because of the attractiveness of the business model in the current dining climate.
Prescription Chicken offers about eight different soups, including vegetarian and vegan options. They’ve found a way to infuse a bit of hospitality into delivery food by curating packages for people who are sick or hungover. Orders always include a hand-written note. “The coolest thing about hospitality is it has nothing to do with four walls,” Zweig says.
TaKorean puts a Mexican twist on Korean food, hence the name. It operates brick-and-mortar locations inside Union Market and in Navy Yard. Customers can build tacos or bowls by choosing from various proteins, slaws, and toppings. Lenard recently added a family meal option that can feed four to six people for $57.
While Zweig and Lenard’s virtual food hall is built for delivery, people can also swing by to pick up takeout. The partners signed a two-year lease for the space.