Adapting: Stone Creek integrates with ClusterTruck to provide delivery


ClusterTruck, an Indianapolis technology startup that prepares and provides food on demand, recently announced its first integration with an independent restaurant: Stone Creek Dining Co.

Stone Creek is part of Indianapolis-based Cunningham Restaurant Group’s family of restaurants and is located in Zionsville.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Stone Creek, like all other Indiana restaurants, is temporarily closed to dine-in customers and operates solely on carryout sales. The restaurant was forced to adapt quickly to the takeout model.

Two weeks ago, the restaurant group decided to integrate ClusterTruck’s technology to establish a feasible delivery model that it has never had before.

Twenty-one of the restaurant group’s 34 restaurants have switched to carryout orders, operating on a fraction of their typical sales. The other 13 restaurants have temporarily closed. The group has laid off a number of employees as a result.

Unlike ClusterTruck’s normal business model, where meals are prepared in kitchens owned by ClusterTruck, the integration allows customers to order meals directly from Stone Creek’s kitchen for delivery to their homes using ClusterTruck.

Stone Creek capitalizes on ClusterTruck’s system and software to create a profitable self-delivery model, bypassing the high commissions charged by third-party delivery companies that can run up to 30 percent of sales, Cunningham said.

ClusterTruck’s software uses custom algorithms and machine learning to optimize kitchen and delivery operations. The systematic approach ensures that nearly every order is in the hands of customers within seven minutes of preparation. The average time between placing an order and a customer receiving their food is less than 30 minutes at costs below 10 percent of sales.

Mike Cunningham, founder & CEO of Cunningham Restaurant Group, said the integration allows ClusterTruck to deliver Stone Creek’s food to customers’ homes without sacrificing quality.

“With the third-party delivery model, you have all these constituents,” said Chris Baggott, co-founder and CEO of ClusterTruck. “You’ve got drivers on one hand, and they’re not connected to a restaurant, and they’re not connected to the customers, so they’re kind of three-way market places. What our system does is vertically integrate all of that. The trick is knowing where the driver is (which) influences when we cook the food.”

ClusterTruck’s software accounts for drivers and the cooking of delivery orders, so when a meal is estimated to take seven minutes to cook, it is not prepared until the driver is tracked to be seven minutes away. Baggott said the software allows for meals to be delivered while they are still hot and gives drivers more deliveries per hour because less time is spent waiting for food.

Zionsville customers can order Stone Creek menu items online for curbside delivery. Orders are delivered using the ClusterTruck system within the dedicated zone.

Co-founded in 2015, ClusterTruck launched its first kitchen in Indianapolis in 2016. ClusterTruck has locations in Indianapolis, Carmel, Columbus, Ohio, Denver and Kansas City.

Stone Creek still utilizes its kitchen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Changing with the times

After announcing a recent integration with Stone Creek, Chris Baggott, co-founder and CEO of ClusterTruck, said that for some restaurants, being able to quickly adopt a self-delivery model could be critical to their survival.

“I think behavior was changing, anyway,” Baggott said. “We were spending more time at home. We were going out less. We have 70-inch TVs and IKEA furniture and Netflix and have made our houses really nice. This is a trend that has been growing very quickly as it is, but I think this (pandemic) is going to accelerate that.”

Still, Mike Cunningham, founder & CEO of Cunningham Restaurant Group, said there will always be a place for restaurants and the communal atmosphere they provide.

“I don’t see our society shifting in a major way (after the pandemic),” Cunningham said. “This may accelerate that growth of delivery and eating at home, but I don’t think the model of a dine-in restaurant is dead by any means. We are a social creature, and we want to have those experiences.”


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