Going Public- The Waitr is Over
Crawfish, po-boys, meals forged together by the Cajun holy trinity, or just slathered in piping hot gravy– Louisiana's unique cuisines have become a staple of our culture. With a lifestyle that champions old-fashioned ideals of community, home-cooking, and helpfulness, it's easy to understand why Waitr, an online food delivery service, heated up from a slow simmer, caught fire and is now in the testing stages in going public in a deal valued at $300+ million.
Headquartered in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Waitr set out in 2013 to expand the food delivery and online ordering market, partnering with local independent restaurants and regional and national chains. Its mission– feed its roots by showcasing Louisiana culture and providing "great local food delivered to your door." Waitr's founders understood the importance of investing in Louisiana and Louisiana-based businesses, creating opportunities to instill change in our state through economic empowerment and support the everyday citizens and mom-and-pop shops.
Waitr proudly acknowledges the strong Southwest Louisiana community that fostered its development, providing its first clientele and capital investors. One of Waitr's investors is Innovation Catalyst, a nonprofit venture development organization, which works to strengthen and broaden Louisiana's entrepreneurial ecosystem through education, connections, and capital.
Innovation Catalyst's relationship with the on-demand food ordering platform began in 2016 and continued with follow-on investments in 2017 and 2018. "When we first met Chris and heard his pitch, it was immediately clear that Waitr epitomized the type of Company that Innovation Catalyst seeks to invest in," says Louis Freeman, CEO of Innovation Catalyst. "Waitr was homegrown in Louisiana, had a great management team, cutting-edge technology and a scalable business model in a growing market."
Between 2016 and 2017, Waitr grew 390 percent and began operating in 150 cities. In 2017, Waitr brought restaurants $90 million in food sales, which the restaurant's report is a 20 to 25 percent increase over their normal business. Today, Waitr has over 5,000 restaurant partners in over 200 cities in the Southeast U.S. and employs 246 corporate employees and over 2,800 driver employees.
Waitr's relationship with the Innovation Catalyst, however, doesn't end with at capital investment. In March 2018, Innovation Catalyst brokered a deal, wherein Waitr purchased Indie Plate, another Innovation Catalyst portfolio company. As part of this transaction, Waitr will use Indie Plate's kitchen to create a new initiative called The Waitr Restaurant Incubator Lab. This initiative allows aspiring chefs to work out of Waitr's kitchen and Waitr will help them develop brands, menus, and meals, which will then be promoted, sold and delivered through the Waitr app. The incubator users will also have access to Waitr's data, which they can then use to know where their meals are selling and which neighborhoods or areas of the market are a good fit for a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
Waitr's merger is a tremendous win for both Innovation Catalyst and the investment ecosystem, demonstrating the power of organizational mentorship. Innovation Catalyst is optimistic about Waitr's future and will continue to invest in the food delivery startup. Freeman sees this merger as a multiple valuation of Innovation Catalyst's original investment and as testament to the development organization's ability to recognize a good deal.
Hopefully more Louisiana-born and bred entrepreneurial endeavors will follow Waitr’s lead. Because if variety is truly the spice of life, then Waitr's expansion will undoubtedly produce savory results. But let's face the (slightly-biased) truth, nothing will compare to Waitr's original Cajun classics