Karen Akunowicz: Three Owners on What It Takes to Succeed on Goldbelly

Shirley Chung joined Goldbelly in November 2019, just a little over a year after she opened Ms. Chi in Los Angeles and, fortuitously, four months before the pandemic. Chung had followed the food shipping service since 2016, after hearing founder Joe Ariel speak at a TED Talk. As soon as Chung opened her restaurant, and Goldbelly expanded to California, she began to ship her dumplings, potstickers, and scallion pancakes across the country.

Like many of her peers, Chung closed Ms. Chi from mid-March to mid-July 2020, cutting off Goldbelly operations too. But when she reopened online ordering that summer, Chung saw her Goldbelly sales skyrocket from 20 to 50 orders a week to well into the triple digits. “I had a 1,000 percent increase in Goldbelly sales,” she says. “It paid for my rent during the pandemic.”

Though Chung’s Goldbelly sales flattened alongside eased pandemic restrictions, her success on the platform kept Ms. Chi alive and continues to inform her restaurant operations. And in an era of increasingly tight margins, a growing number of chefs are finding Goldbelly to be an important tool for growing their revenue and reach.

Critically, Goldbelly lets businesses set their own pricing inclusive of packaging and labor, and, in contrast to third-party delivery services, the platform doesn’t skim 20 to 30 percent off the top. Say what you will about the economics and impact of shipping temperature-controlled food across the country: the model is fairer for independent restaurants, which is why Goldbelly is now working with 1,000 business owners on foods as diverse as boozy jelly cakes, deep dish pizza, whole Peking duck, king cakes, and tamales.

“Their dedication to quality was as high as mine was. They wanted to make sure people were getting perfect product.” – Karen Akunowicz

The planning process

“Part of being successful is not just making beautiful food. It’s not just having people love our food. It’s being fiscally responsible,” says Karen Akunowicz, chef/owner of Fox & the Knife and Bar Volpe in Boston. “If Goldbelly wasn’t a great margin, we wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Akunowicz joined the platform in November 2021 after having started a to-go pasta program during the pandemic. “I was getting DMs, saying ‘I wish I could try your pasta. Do you ship?’,” recalls Akunowicz, who was eager to expand the business but unprepared to manage shipping logistics.

So she cold-called a Goldbelly rep and started a three-month process of figuring out what she would sell, serving sizes, how to organize labor, what price to set, and how exactly she’d get pristine food to customers and coach them in cooking it.

“Their dedication to quality was as high as mine was,” says Akunowicz. “They wanted to make sure people were getting perfect product.”

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