Credit: Laura Hayes

A Hillcrest resident regularly has a hankering for Mangialardo’s Italian sandwiches. Phil, who asked to be identified by her first name only, usually travels to the Capitol Hill institution to pick up a “G” Man or turkey subs. The delicatessen has been located at 1317 Pennsylvania Ave. SE since 1958.

Recently, though, she wanted her order to be delivered via Grubhub, the only third-party delivery service on which Mangialardo’s is available. That’s when she learned that her home, despite being just 2.7 miles from the restaurant, was outside of the restaurant’s delivery radius. 

City Paper started measuring. President Joe Biden could hypothetically get a Mangialardo’s sub delivered because 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW is within the delivery radius even though it’s 4.1 miles from the restaurant. So could guests staying at the Holiday Inn off Scott Circle, 4.2 miles away. The Brookland Press apartment building on Channing Place NE is 4.5 miles away from Mangialardo’s, but its residents can also place a delivery order.

The same can’t be said for people who live in the Frederick Douglass Apartments in Anacostia, a mere 1.9 miles from Mangialardo’s, or residents of Savannah Heights Apartments in Congress Heights, located 3.8 miles away. 

Phil initially thought Mangialardo’s was at fault. “I think these restaurants that engage in that type of behavior, it’s most definitely discriminatory,” she told City Paper on Monday. “If I can get a restaurant in Crystal City to deliver here, why can’t I get restaurants I patronize to deliver here?”

That’s not the case. A Grubhub representative relayed on Tuesday afternoon that Grubhub itself determines delivery boundaries when they deliver orders on behalf of restaurants. When a restaurant uses the Grubhub platform to collect orders, but employs its own drivers, the restaurant sets the radius. Mangialardo’s falls into the former category.

“We looked into their boundaries and found we were over-correcting for traffic on the bridges,” the representative told City Paper. We’re only guessing but perhaps the concern is that food orders would be delayed, impacting quality and potentially causing drivers to lose out on income while idling. “We’ve expanded this restaurant’s delivery radius to reach east of the river,” the representative says.

Tony Mangialardo, the third-generation owner of the sandwich shop, is happy more people will be able to order subs from the comfort of their homes based on the response from the Grubhub representative. “That’s always good,” he says. “The more the merrier.” He didn’t quite buy the bridge traffic excuse. “The bridge is never a problem anymore. Years ago it used to be, but they’ve rerouted traffic and it hasn’t been a problem.”

“I think it’s absolutely great,” Phil echoes.  

But as of Wednesday afternoon, Grubhub hadn’t made good on its promise. When you punch in Phil’s address and search for Mangialardo’s, the Grubhub site says “This restaurant doesn’t deliver to your address.”

Update 4:20 p.m.: Grubhub updated its system and now delivers to Phil’s address in Hillcrest.

Delivery companies stopping short of reaching communities in Wards 7 and 8 has been an issue since they launched. DCist reported on it in early 2016, not long after companies like Uber Eats first made their services available in D.C. DoorDash, Postmates, and Caviar didn’t deliver to communities east of the river at the time. 

Some neighborhoods in Wards 7 and 8 are considered food deserts because there are only a handful of full-service grocery stores and getting to and from them can be a challenge. There are also few sit-down restaurants. Advocates working to address hunger and unequal access to healthy food prefer the term “food apartheid” to describe the situation because it acknowledges that institutional racism and discrimination play a role.

The topic resurfaced in April 2018 when the Post chronicled the lack of delivery options in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River at a time when delivery was ballooning in wealthier, Whiter parts of the city. Shortly after the story published, a Ward 7 resident started a petition demanding equal treatment from Caviar, Postmates, and DoorDash. More than 800 people signed it. “Black people deserve quality food and equal service,” Latoya Watson wrote on the petition she started. “I’m raising my hand to call for that change.” 

Postmates and Caviar obliged soon after, according to a follow-up report from the Post

But what’s the deal with Grubhub? If they shrunk the delivery boundaries to leave out east of the river neighborhoods for Mangialardo’s, are other restaurants also accidentally excluding potential delivery customers?

The Grubhub representative did not respond to additional questions. City Paper wants to when residents like Phil will be able to order from Mangialardo’s and how many other restaurants might have restricted delivery boundaries based on so-called bridge-traffic concerns.

Phil hopes addressing the issue is a priority. “I think that more attention needs to be paid to it because it’s not fair,” she says.