Amid steady criticism of the impact of third-party delivery services on restaurants struggling during the pandemic, an industry giant this week dished out $340,000 in grants to Boston-area restaurants.
DoorDash said Monday that it had chosen 17 restaurants to join its Main Street Strong Accelerator program, an initiative aimed at providing financial and educational support to businesses, particularly those owned by women, immigrants, and people of color. All of the Boston participants fall in at least one of those three categories.
For Morad Bouzid, owner of Mo’Rockin Fusion in Boston Public Market, the support is “a tremendous help,” after he put a hold on growing his business when the pandemic drove workers out of downtown. He hopes to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the future.
“We’re trying to work with what we have right now,” said Bouzid. “So I was actually thrilled that I was picked.”
Along with the cash, selected restaurants also will receive an eight-week curriculum with lessons on how to grow their business, one-on-one coaching, and merchandising and marketing benefits from DoorDash. The delivery app partnered with Accion Opportunity Fund, a nonprofit small business lender, to include curriculum centered on business growth, with courses such as “Finding Your Niche and Defining Your Brand,” “Hiring & Employee Relations,” and “Marketing Like a Pro.”
“We focus on the areas that we know restaurant owners needed the most,” said Tasia Hawkins, social impact program lead at DoorDash. “So that business owners are equipped to not just have the capital to run their business, but to know what to do with that capital and deploy it in a way that will help their business grow for the long term.”
Fiex Thevenin and Denise Omarde of Cafe Juice Up in Mattapan plan to use some of the grant money to address staffing shortages. Thevenin said he hopes to form lasting connections with other program participants.
“After the cohort is done, I hope that everyone can always maintain a relationship where information and resources can be passed along,” he said. “The more people that can band together, the better off we all are.”
DoorDash already has rolled out the program in five other cities over the last year, including New York and Chicago. It’s part of a broader five-year, $200 million Main Street Strong Pledge to strengthen local communities and their restaurants, Hawkins said.
DoorDash and other third-party delivery services have long been criticized by some restaurants for charging up to 30 percent for commissions on orders they deliver. Those criticisms grew during the pandemic, as struggling restaurants relied on delivery to survive, and thus had to share more of their proceeds with delivery apps.
John Schall, owner of El Jefe’s Taqueria in Boston and Cambridge, has advocated for a 15 percent delivery fee cap since the early days of the pandemic. Last January, the Massachusetts Legislature implemented this 15 percent cap, but the provision expired in June. Since then, Schall said, delivery fees on his orders have shot back up to 25 percent of the bill.
For a restaurant that depends on delivery for nearly 40 percent of its business now, the fees are “a killer” to profit margins, he said.
“There’s lots of reasons why restaurants are struggling now, but this is certainly one of them,” said Schall. “It’s a really big percentage, and it will continue to have devastating effects on restaurants.”
Hawkins said DoorDash is “continually listening to merchant feedback,” and cited its announcement in April to allow restaurants to choose partnership plans with delivery commissions starting at 15 percent.
“We’re continually thinking about how to invest back into our merchants, and the Main Street Strong Accelerator is just one portion of that,” said Hawkins.
Annie Probert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.