But the Mokris also took a decidedly less tech-centric approach. In addition to leaning heavily on the local success of sites like NextDoor and Patch to spread the word and solicit feedback, they also sought to meet with at least one of those customers a day, in person, often over coffee, to pick their brains about the 180Eats concept, the service, the ingredients and the meals, much like a grassroots political campaign.
“We’re not out there kissing babies,” Lee Mokri, who left his job as director of global corporate communications at Visa Inc. earlier this year, says with a laugh. “But these meetings have added a ton of insight.”
More importantly, they’ve produced results. 180Eats started with one customer on Pine Hill Road in Tam Valley around the time of its launch five weeks ago. Now it’s up to six customers on that street, a hyperlocal trend that has echoed across Southern Marin.
And once they sign up, those customers are coming back – 75 percent of 180Eats’ customers are returning.
The concept of 180Eats – the name refers to a 180-degree turn away from processed ingredients and a return to seasonally-driven whole foods – was born out the Mokris’ own personal experience in the three years since they moved to Mill Valley. With busy professional lives that often required commutes to San Francisco and Foster City, they didn’t have the time to cook healthy meals at home each night, didn’t want to splurge on a meal at an upscale local restaurant and had a hard time finding a middle ground: healthy, delicious meals made from locally sourced ingredients that they could eat at home.
The past year made the problem even more acute: the arrival of their daughter six months ago and a three-month kitchen remodel that had them eating out most nights a week. They had some success with places like the hot bar at Whole Foods, “but you can’t do that every day,” Mokri says.
The concept derived in part from Marin’s proximity to world-class farms, and 180Eats works with providers like Humboldt Grass Fed Beef, Petaluma Poultry and Water2Table, among others.
“We live so close to some of the best ingredients in the world and a lot of people don’t have the access that they could or should have, either because of time or money or both,” he says.
Through the course of their surveys of approximately 150 neighbors, they learned that there were plenty of people around them who felt the same way. The majority preferred to eat at home during the week and didn’t want to spend much more than $20 or $30 for dinner for two. That helped the Mokris land on a price point: $10.95 per meal.
“That is probably cheaper than you could cook those ingredients yourself,” he says.
Lee and Megan Mokri auditioned a group of standout Bay Area chefs to run the food side of the business, with prospective customers selecting the winner, American Idol-style. Former Google executive chef Jefferson Sevilla landed the gig. Sevilla cooks out of a commercial kitchen in San Rafael.
180Eats offers two meal options per day (the menu changes daily), one veggie and one meat (or fish) entrée, with free delivery to San Rafael, Larkspur, Tiburon, Belvedere, Corte Madera, Greenbrae and Mill Valley.
The Mokris have had some consulting help along the way. They worked with incubator Renaissance Marin in San Rafael to put together their business model. Megan Mokri, whose professional background is in ecommerce and online advertising, is currently attending the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, through which they participated six weeks ago in an Entrepreneurs Boot Camp, winning a pitch competition featuring 100 startups from around the world.
The Mokris are already eyeing the next chapter for 180Eats: setting up “grab-n-go” retail locations, starting in Tam Valley, where customers could pick up meals on their way home from work.
The 411: Go to 180Eats.com website, see the menu for the week ahead and pick a meal and a delivery day/time. Each meal is $10.95 and delivery to San Rafael, Larkspur, Tiburon, Belvedere, Corte Madera, Greenbrae and Mill Valley is free.