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“People don’t think that you can take 25 pizzas on a bicycle,” says Chris Rabadi. “But a Bring It! courier can.”
Rabadi leads operations for Bring It!, a bicycle courier service for local restaurants and other food and beverage businesses. During work hours, he helps run things from the Bring It! office in Naylor Court, dispatching couriers to their destinations and supporting them as needed, whether with a wheel change or a backup cell phone. The erstwhile bicycle racer handles many of the orders himself on a signature Omnium Cargo bike. Bring It! has wholesale deals with Omnium and a few other bicycle makers to ensure they’re riding the bikes that will get them there the fastest.
The brainchild of Rabadi and his partner, Kimmie Harlow, who owns the company, Bring It! began in 2020 when the pandemic was in full swing and takeout and delivery were the only options diners and restaurant owners had. For the two of them, both of whom previously worked as food deliverers, it was about creating a company that put delivery workers first; however, a few dozen restaurant owners have also found it to be the solution to their Uber problem.
“We looked into UberEats and some of the other apps and we were really opposed to their pay structure,” says Oliver Cox, a co-owner of Pearl’s Bagels in Mount Vernon Triangle. There’s still a limit to what people are comfortable spending on a breakfast sandwich, Cox says. “Once you factor in that Uber is going to take 15 percent of that, it’s almost not worth even being on those sites,” he says. The sourdough bagel shop works exclusively with Bring It! now.
The delivery commission fee for companies like UberEats and Grubhub used to be even higher. Prior to the pandemic, fees typically cost up to 30 percent of every order, taking a sizable bite out of restaurants’ earnings. Given the expanded role that delivery orders suddenly played for District restaurants during the pandemic, the D.C. Council passed a law, tied to the public health emergency, capping delivery fees at 15 percent.
The public health emergency expired this past January. What will happen now remains to be seen, but if D.C. makes those delivery caps permanent, tech platforms such as UberEats and DoorDash won’t go down without a fight. When San Francisco passed such legislation in 2021, DoorDash and Grubhub quickly sued, calling it an “irrational law, driven by naked animosity and ill-conceived economic protectionism.”
For restaurant owners, however, their issues with third-party delivery apps don’t stop at the fees. Bob Daly, the owner of DC Pizza downtown and another Bring It! partner, says third-party app workers have shorted customers on their promised number of pies multiple times. “Things can get wrecked along the way. They drop a $200 order of pizzas and now we’ve got to make them over again,” Daly says. “So many things can go wrong in delivery.”
Complaints like these spurred the team behind Shaw bar Ivy and Coney to create their own delivery platform, DC To-GoGo. Launched in 2020, the platform ultimately didn’t capture enough market share to become sustainable. Ironically, they lost their edge over the third-party app when D.C. enacted the delivery commission cap legislation.
Where DC To-GoGo offered an alternative to third-party delivery in the name of restaurant workers, Bring It! did so in the name of delivery workers. “We collectively got together to avoid being mistreated,” Rabadi says. “That’s what this whole project is about.”
Delivery workers run a gauntlet to deliver a meal for often very little pay. There’s a new algorithm for every app; people take food they didn’t order; a parking ticket might nix earnings; bathrooms can be scarce; and bad weather can make for a miserable ride for a bike courier.
Third-party app workers suffer particularly bad conditions. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine sued DoorDash in 2019 for pocketing millions of dollars in workers’ tips and using that to cover labor costs. Fritz Fellow Katie Wells of Georgetown University argues that gig delivery workers are set up to fail. While they can dictate their own hours, because they’re classified as independent contractors, they don’t have the same protections in-house employees have, like a guaranteed minimum wage or overtime pay, all while risking their safety in a city where traffic fatalities continue to rise.
Having worked for third-party apps before Bring It!, Rabadi knows what it’s like. “You’re not getting paid very much on DoorDash to begin with,” he says. A large order might fetch a better tip, but otherwise earnings hover around minimum wage. “DoorDash does not take care of their couriers at all,” Rabadi says.
For some, the apps alienate them from the work. “Having these huge companies take over the industry is a major disconnect from the courier to their work and being able to get paid fairly,” Rabadi says. It makes a big difference to have an actual human dispatcher looking out for the couriers, he says.
“Math and courier work don’t go hand in hand at all. There’s no way that you can write a math problem that’s going to predict the headwind that a vehicle has to go through to get the job done,” Rabadi says. “There’s a huge amount of trust and attention to detail that comes into courier work.”
Coming up as a courier, Rabadi didn’t have the same flexibility in dictating his schedule that gig workers have. But his efforts on rainy or cold days were recognized by dispatchers who would route him to $600 days when the going was good, a huge windfall by industry standards. “[Courier work] is a lot of time in the saddle dedicating yourself in cold and rainy weather,” he says.
For their workers, Bring It! counters third-party apps by guaranteeing at least minimum wage, though often workers make more. The seven couriers cover less ground, use a dispatcher app made by bike couriers, and have technical support, including backup bicycles. “We focus on making sure our couriers are successful,” Rabadi says.
Bring It! remains small, but the model can be an inspiring alternative to dispirited delivery workers and fed up restaurant owners. A few restaurant owners have even used Bring It!’s couriers to deliver third-party app orders. “People don’t want their couriers to handle it, but we’re very highly trained, well-equipped individuals,” Rabadi says.
For Pearl’s Bagels, Bring It! was a solution after Grubhub added them to their app without consent. They noticed Grubhub workers putting in orders based on outdated menus and put a stop to it after seeing that the deliveries weren’t going smoothly. “Then you have people giving you a one star Yelp review,” Cox says.
The experience made Cox realize that there was a market for delivery, but because Bring It! limits their delivery range to what’s manageable on a bicycle, Pearl can’t reach everyone. For Cox, the trade-off is worth it. “We’re trying to make sure that what we’re putting out is as good as it can possibly be in our eyes,” he says. “If it goes out of our control, we can look bad and so for us that’s been a more important business decision than the quick, easy way of sort of getting higher volume in sales.”
The two businesses started working together late last year. Cox considered hiring an in-house delivery driver beforehand but decided against it because they weren’t sure how much delivery business there would be. It’s become a small percentage of their business, but they’ve established regulars who order multiple times a week, even if they’ve never come in person.
The relationship between the delivery workers and the restaurant is also different from what third-party app workers can expect. “They’re basically an extension of Pearl,” Cox says. Between rides, couriers might hang out, enjoy a cup of coffee, and talk about where they’re off to next.
Daly doesn’t say Bring It!’s couriers are part of the DC Pizza team, but at least he knows who to call if there’s a problem. Before partnering with Bring It!, they had an in-house delivery worker, but they decided to partner with Bring It! because they couldn’t rely on just one worker to fulfill all their deliveries. “There’s a lot involved with doing your own deliveries and it’s hard to find employees right now,” Daly says.
Working in a still somewhat deserted downtown, Daly says DC Pizza and many of the other downtown restaurants are just holding on. But delivery has helped and it’s become a larger part of their business, growing from about 5 percent before the pandemic to the 15 percent it represents today. “[Delivery] has been a big help,” Daly says. “At this point, any incremental sales are very helpful.”
DC Pizza stipulates Bring It!’s delivery range on its website, but still partner with third-party apps for those outside of it. Customers can still order from third-party apps if they’re within the delivery range, but it’s better for the restaurant if customers order through it directly.
Bring It! handles their biggest orders. “We are focused on the delivery personnel,” Rabadi says. “When you focus on people or the means of getting a job done and they’re fully equipped, stoked for the job, know they’re getting paid fairly, you can trust those individuals.”