Business

MealPass offers a low-cost, low-stress lunch solution

A Vietnamese noodle bowl from Sa Pa is among the items available on the MealPass program in Boston.

Globe Staff/file 2014

A Vietnamese noodle bowl from Sa Pa is among the items available on the MealPass program in Boston.

A year and a half ago, fitness freaks hailed the arrival of ClassPass in Boston as the answer to the scourge of the overpriced gym class. Instead of coughing up $20 per boutique sweat session, members pay $119 a month and take their pick from hundreds of classes at spin, yoga, and barre studios across the city.

The concept, conceived by MIT grad Payal Kadakia and Mary Biggins, a Colby alum, obviously had legs; since launching in 2013, the New York-based startup has expanded to 30 cities and has raised more than $84 million from investors including Boston-based venture firm General Catalyst.

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Now Biggins, a Sudbury native, has taken the idea and applied it to something far more pedestrian: lunch. This Wednesday, her new company, MealPass, will begin offering its Boston-area members low-cost midday meals from more than 50 local restaurants, from Vietnamese noodle bowls at Sa Pa to Creole burgers from Wheelhouse and Mediterranean dishes from Piperi. The Miami-based company boasts that its users can get great lunches for less than $5, provided they come pick them up.

“You probably shouldn’t be spending $15 a day on lunch,” Biggins said. “This is an affordable way to get really good food.”

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The cost for a MealPass is $99 a month for weekday meals. Every evening at 7 p.m., users can take their pick from a selection of menu items that will be offered the following day. Each participating restaurant decides on one dish that they’ll offer to MealPass members — Pad Thai, perhaps, or a double cheeseburger. Members can preorder their meals by 9:30 a.m. the following morning and then provide the restaurant with a window in which they plan to pick it up. The result should be a frictionless transaction, Biggins said. No waiting in line for the customer, and prepaid meals means less time at checkout.

Biggins’s goal for MealPass, she said, is to find a smarter way to offer quick, cheap eats. “There is so much noise in the space about on-demand and delivered right to you,” she said, citing the plethora of delivery startups such as UberEATS, Munchery, and PostMates now shuttling sushi and steak frites to lunch customers around the country. The problem, she said, is that all of that shuttling comes at a cost to the customer, hiking up the price of the food.

By cutting out the delivery cost, she said, she can drive down the amount the restaurants have to pay to prepare the meals. “We’re able to send them a lot of volume, which gives them the efficiency to scale as they’re creating the food.”

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John Chase, the owner of Wheelhouse, said he was drawn to the simplicity of MealPass. “We’re not dealing with a bunch of different ingredients or orders,” he said. Because the MealPass requests will come in by 10 a.m., it will allow his team to prep during the morning lull between breakfast and lunch. Plus, he hopes the app will help him attract new customers in what is normally a slow season for restaurants in the Financial District. “This time of year, I think anyone will take on more business,” he said.

Biggins said the MealPass aim is twofold. She hopes to add volume to restaurants that already have a robust lunch business, and bolster the midday business for traditional sit-down operations that could use a boost. Restaurants seem to be willing to give it a try; since the company launched last week in Miami, Biggins said they’ve already booked 500 meals at 50 participating restaurants.

The company has not yet revealed the total investment so far, but Biggins says a local venture firm has participated in the initial round of financing.

So is it only a matter of time until ClassPass and MealPass sync up, giving gym buffs a way to pick up their salads on their way back from spinning? “There’s nothing planned yet; they’re two separate companies,” said Biggins, who stepped down from the fitness startup last year. “But it’d be interesting to see how they might one day align.”

Janelle Nanos can be reached at janelle.nanos@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.
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