“For the coast, by the coast.” In the age of app-driven food delivery, a grassroots service starts from scratch.

Orders to go via the new locally-devised CoastMates delivery service. (Image courtesy of Emily Bowditch)

The weekend before the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order went into effect, Joe Pacini and Emily Bowditch saw the writing on the wall.

On that particular Friday, the two proprietors — Pacini owns Sacrilege Brewing + Kitchen and Bowditch, the nearby Cocktail Quail—quickly overhauled health protocols at their respective businesses in Half Moon Bay, removing self-serve condiment and water stations, as well as upping their sanitization standards. By Sunday, they added delivery. The next day, all food businesses were ordered to shut down in-person operations, with takeout and delivery still permissible.

Even though they were quick to make changes to in-store processes, for most eateries in quiet Half Moon Bay, the industry-wide pivot to delivery hasn’t been as easy. The big-name third-party delivery apps that so many Bay Area residents and restaurants are relying on right now can be inconsistent on the coast — orders get dropped or take so long that food arrives cold — and in a small town, people just don’t use them as much. The commission rates, which can be as high as 30%, are hard to justify for small Coastside businesses.

From left: Sacrilege owner Joe Pacini pictured at the front counter of his brewery and restaurant; Bowditch showing off her new signage shortly before opening the Cocktail Quail this past summer. (Photo by Charles Russo and via The Cocktail Quail Instagram)

After seeing friends in the industry struggling and neighbors needing reliable sources of food, Pacini and Bowditch jumped into action and started CoastMates, a grassroots delivery service for Coastside residents. There’s no app, website or commission fees. Pacini and Bowditch are taking orders via text, using a wall of color-coded PostIt notes to keep track of deliveries and delivering everything themselves, from pizza, coffee beans and craft beer to free-range eggs and kale from local farms. They promote new partnerships and products via Instagram.

“Providing our community is our №1 focus,” Bowditch said. “A cool app interface or a cool website are nowhere near a high priority for us right now. It’s just trying to help people who are scared and uncertain right now in the best way that we can.”

The CoastMates’ low-tech delivery tracking system. (Image courtesy of Emily Bowditch)

They charge a 10% service fee to customers to cover their own costs for deliveries and a delivery fee based on the distance between a restaurant and the customer. There’s no cost for restaurants to participate.

Pacini manages the hot food deliveries while Bowditch oversees the seasonal produce boxes. They’re only delivering from Half Moon Bay to Montara to maintain quality (and their own sanity).

About two weeks in, they now have more than seven food and drink partners, including Rosalind Bakery, Kizler Coffee, Ark North Indian Cuisine, Hop Dogma Brewing Co., Pedro Point Brewing, Old Princeton Landing and Barterra Winery.

Coastside bounty: Some of the eats (and drinks) available via CoastMates. Clockwise from top: coffee beans from Kizler; fresh eggs from Twisted Fields farm; baked sweets from Sacrilege Kitchen and all sorts of micro-brew magic. (Images via CoastMates Instagram)

For participating businesses, CoastMates is helping to boost sales and visibility at a crucial time.

Matt Kosoy, who owns Rosalind Bakery in Pacifica, found CoastMates on Instagram. Demand for his naturally leavened bread has actually shot up during the shelter-at-home order, but he wanted to make his products more accessible to individual families. He doesn’t yet have the infrastructure to provide delivery on his own, and signing up with the major third-party apps is “much too complicated,” he said.

He described CoastMates as a “headless grocery store” — he invoices Pacini and Bowditch for a bulk amount of bread and they deliver it to people he wouldn’t otherwise reach in Half Moon Bay and Montara.

“CoastMates fills a niche in an underserved section of the Bay Area,” Kosoy said.

Josh Kizler of Kizler Coffee in Pacifica, who heard about CoastMates from a customer, said he “wanted to pursue any and every available venue for additional revenue. Survival mode had kicked in.”

At Pedro Point Brewing in Pacifica, the brewery’s taproom is temporarily closed, so they’re relying on takeout and delivery to survive.

“We would love to (use) DoorDash, etc. but it’s pretty tough to do ‘traditional’ food delivery services with beer — many don’t even do it, and our main business was always the taproom more so than canning,” said Roberta Gamble, head of marketing at Pedro Point. “It’s easier to work with a local supplier like CoastMates for us.”

CoastMates’ hyperlocal produce boxes have proved incredibly popular, particularly for people who aren’t leaving their homes because they’re immunocompromised or at high risk for contracting the coronavirus, Bowditch said. They’re able to meet requests for products that don’t grow locally, like bananas, by using a small, local restaurant distributor. They don’t offer meat or fish because local fisheries and meat companies are offering delivery on their own.

“I’ve had people cry to me on the phone about it. Being able to help the people that we love and care about during this — none of us know what’s going on,” she said. “It’s just people asking us to help them and us asking how we can help. That’s kind of all of it is right now.”

Bowditch and Pacini’s customers are their friends and neighbors. They know intimately the local farmers, brewers and chefs they’re delivering from. They’re able to respond to personal requests, like an elderly couple who just needed someone to go to the grocery store to grab them eggs, in a way the big-name delivery apps can’t. They tailor orders to accommodate customers’ allergies.

It’s also giving them a sense of purpose at a time of enormous uncertainty for their own businesses.

“We’re really happy to be able to provide a little bit of color and normalcy to this really bizarre and strange time in the small time we live in,” Bowditch said.

To place restaurant delivery orders with CoastMates, call 650–942–9477 between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. For produce/grocery deliveries, text 704–998–9674. Follow CoastMates on Instagram.

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Elena Kadvany

A writer with a passion for investigative reporting, telling untold stories and public-service journalism, I have built my career covering education and restaurants in the Bay Area. My blog and biweekly newsletter, Peninsula Foodist, is the go-to source for restaurant news in Silicon Valley. My work has been published in The Guardian, Eater, Bon Appetit’s Healthyish, SF Weekly and The Six Fifty.

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