Caught in the Net
A bold culinary experiment with online eats and Doorbell Dining.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Behold the mighty Internet—the powerful portal that has transformed the world economy, convinced millions of MySpacers that they matter, and brought poker and porn to the masses. Seems this Internet can do anything. But right now, I just want it to feed me. And it’s failing.
I sat down around dinnertime with a simple goal and a simple rule: sustenance from the Web; no phones allowed. A rudimentary Google search yielded but two viable choices amidst the grocery delivery services and wholesalers: Papa John’s Pizza and Doorbell Dining. Fortunately Doorbell Dining, a seven-year fixture on the local gourmet-delivery scene but a relative newcomer to the Web, actually offers an array of choices, with 33 local powerhouse kitchens to pick from: think Epsilon and Elli’s, Rio Grill and Rosine’s, Golden Buddha and Golden Fish (for a full list of restaurants, see box, opposite page).
I whispered, “Internet, I love you,” as I debated the attractive options, ultimately clicking on Alvarado Street’s Jugem. The process was rather seamless—pick a restaurant, click on a menu component (appetizers or entrees), select a dish, register any special prep adjustments, and the ordered items appear on a little receipt on the right of the screen, flanked by a running total.
I quickly assembled a mouthwatering spread of seaweed salad, miso and sushi. In my mind, I was already skipping through the cherry-blossom-strewn streets of Osaka to the local fish market.
After I completed the credit card information—the whole process, ample indecision included, took less than 15 minutes—and prepared to return to my reverie, an unwelcome message interrupted my dream sequence like an aikido hip throw: Site error. Please call to complete the order. I could taste the tempura as I reached for my mobile. But that would mean violating my own rule, however arbitrary it might be. No phone, so no dice, Doorbell.
Papa John had little problem swooping me up on the rebound with his flashy graphics and user-friendly layout. The fun customization process almost evoked a video game, what with the cartoony icons of each pepper, tomato and pepperoni being dragged over to decorate each half of the large pan pizza. My half chicken-bacon-tomato-onion, half pepperoni-mushroom-sausage-olive pie ran about $20 and arrived gorgeous in a timely fashion, the tip peacefully prearranged online.
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But Doorbell Dining—and by extension, the almighty Internet—deserved a shot at redemption, in part because Doorbell’s pre-planning possibilities were so intriguing.
It appeared that orders could be placed hours and even days in advance online, and delivered to any location. I imagined surprising friends with Bahama Billy’s Crispy Coconut Prawns at the beach or breaking from a bike ride for a tussle with some Tarpy’s ribs in a park. And my credit card information was already safely stored by the site, which would save time on my next order.
But before orchestrating that operation, I called to learn a little bit more about Doorbell Dining. I soon discovered that Dave and Heather Stewart of Spreckels have guided the business with a decidedly mom-and-pop style since its inception—the paper copy of their menu even includes a picture of the happy couple and an update on their employees, family and business.
They’ve succeeded because their formula is simple and makes sense. Customers pay the same menu price they would in-house (plus a $3.99-$6.99 delivery fee based on distance), which they like—Doorbell Dining takes 30 percent of the sale from the restaurant. Restaurants incur no additional costs beyond food expenses to extend a delivery service and sell more grub (business folk call this “incremental sales”).
Doorbell Dining’s growth from Monterey out to Gilroy, Santa Cruz and Watsonville—plus a new base freshly opened in San Jose—reinforce that. The all-powerful Internet has only helped.
“My business has been growing about 25 percent a year pretty much every year for seven years,” Dave Stewart says. “And now we probably do about 20 percent of orders online.”
Stewart says Monterey County definitely has its favorites.
“Elli’s in Salinas has been really popular,” he says, “And we do a ton with Gino’s too. Around Monterey, Bahama Billy’s and Tarpy’s are big, but we do by far most of our business with California Pizza Kitchen.”
Stewart says he approaches new restaurants each year to keep his 30-some restaurant roster fresh. Recent additions include Elli’s, Maui Tacos, Marie Callender’s, Chapala and Penny Farthing in Salinas, plus Thaiwaiian Bistro, Fifi’s Cafe and La Dolce Vita on the Peninsula. Duly inspired, I decided to give the Thaiwaiian Bistro a try for my meet-my-picnic-in-the-park experiment.
On a Thursday I clicked in an island of an order: Hawaiian coconut crab cakes ($8.95), Spicy Sweet Basil Stir Fry ($10.95), a Kalua Pork Sandwich ($8.95), some fresh vegi rolls ($6.75), and some Chicken and Portuguese Sausage Kabobs ($8.95). I then set the delivery time for just before sunset on Friday, adding instructions for the driver to locate me at one of the benches at Lovers Point, and invited some friends to meet me.
I biked over to Pacific Grove, where driver Paul was on point, unloading the payload with punctuality. Doorbell Dining did charge me a couple bucks for using a credit card and erroneously tacked on an extra buck for Monterey delivery, but at a grand total of $62.71 we had a prodigious—and idyllic—sunset picnic for three.
My pal Rosie provided the utensils and wine, but DD also delivers everything from place settings to Starbucks coffee boxes.
The Thaiwaiian crabcakes were excellent, the Kahlua sandwich salty and savory, the rice-paper rolls both fresh and refreshing. As the sky did a dusky dance into the mild night, we paused mid-kabob to toast the Internet enthusiastically.
Delivery hours: 11am-1:30pm Mon-Fri; 4-9pm Sun-Thu; until 9:30pm Fri-Sat. • Minimum order is $10. • doorbelldining.com • 757-7777 or 373-3333.