One of the great joys of travel is being introduced to new foods. There is nothing like a New York bagel, a macaron from France or hot chicken from Nashville.
So it should come as no surprise that, for travelers grounded during the pandemic, Goldbelly has been a godsend, feeding both their wanderlust and their stomachs.
Goldbelly delivers food from more than 800 restaurants straight to your door so you can have an Everything Bagel from Ess-a-Bagel, a Nutella Bomboloni from Angelina Bakery and wings from Hattie B’s Hot Chicken anywhere in the U.S. without ever leaving your couch.
Understanding the emotional power of food, Founder and CEO Joe Ariel came up with the idea for Goldbelly based on his own personal cravings. After graduating and moving back to New York, he found himself longing for the biscuits, barbecue and hot chicken he had loved in his college town of Nashville.
“Of course there are amazing take-out and restaurant options in Manhattan but there’s a big difference between what’s available locally versus those iconic, authentic, regional foods that invoke a sense of nostalgia for a specific place,” he said. “I figured if I would pay anything to have access to those foods, there would likely be other people who would feel the same way.”
As one of those people, I can tell you that Goldbelly has been a bright spot over the past year. Missing our favorite foods from around the country, my husband and I have ordered everything from pizza to pastries, reminiscing over past trips to their homelands while happily stuffing our faces in our own home. We’ve gifted Magnolia Bakery’s banana pudding to every member of our family and have eaten a ridiculous amount of it ourselves.
Last fall, to expand their offerings, Goldbelly launched a series of cooking classes which have become such a hit, they often sell out within hours.
“So much of what we believe in is connecting people to new food experiences,” said Ariel. “We work with some of the most renowned chefs in the world, like Marcus Samuelsson, Stephanie Izard, Daniel Boulud and Aaron Franklin of Austin’s legendary Franklin Barbecue, and we tailor each event with limited-edition meal kits created specifically for that class. Attendees receive the kit a day or two before class, then actually cook along with these famous chefs via Zoom to make their most renowned dishes from home. Goldbelly is the only brand positioned to provide this innovative, personalized, interactive at-home experience. It just hadn’t existed before.”
My husband and I – who don’t cook but love to eat – signed up for three of these classes over the past couple of months as special date night events. Every single one was a blast. All the kits came on time with easy-to-follow instructions for how to prepare for class, and it was so much fun to interact with the chefs and our fellow participants via the chat function on Zoom. Invariably there would come a time during every class when people would start all-cap shouting for the chef to slow down, and we would laugh because if we could keep up, we knew they could, too.
We made a whole meal with Marcus Samuelsson from his book, The Rise, celebrating African-American cuisine. We made pizza with Emmy Squared – a New York restaurant my son took me to last year – and, of course, banana pudding with Magnolia Bakery. We bought the wrong heavy cream and had the wrong mixer and, yet, it still came out amazing. We were really shocked at how delicious everything was because we never thought we could make anything that would taste as good as the originals. (Note: In a stroke of genius, Goldbelly is offering Emmy Squared and Magnolia Bakery TOGETHER in a pre-Valentine’s Day live class on February 13, and I’m telling you this is the best gift you can give someone you love — or yourself.)
Because of their popularity, Goldbelly is now offering a few classes every week and is planning new ones like a pastry class with famed Parisian patisserie Ladurée, a cook-along with Gramercy Tavern’s Michael Anthony, a bagel class with the legendary Ess-a-Bagel and a Chinese New Year celebration with Top Chef Shirley Chung. We may have to sign up for all of them.
While many companies have had to pivot and find new ways to do business during the pandemic, Goldbelly is perfectly poised to thrive.
“I guess we were ahead of our time,” laughed Ariel. “Although our business model hasn’t really changed, our customer base and the world certain have.”
Ariel credits four macro trends for Goldbelly’s pandemic success:
Consumer adoption of e-commerce. The pandemic has fast-forwarded industries that have traditionally been behind – like food. People are just more comfortable ordering food online now, making it easier for them to get behind something like Goldbelly.
The restaurant world has changed overnight. According to Ariel, “A word they use in retail a lot is omnichannel, and we’re the first brand to offer an omnichannel experience for restaurants. If you’re a restaurant with a brand or a signature dish or a chef that’s widely renowned, for the most part you can’t reach consumers who don’t live within a couple miles of your restaurant. We provide an opportunity for restaurants to open up new revenue streams that don’t cannibalize anything in their local market by creating efficiencies for them so that they’re able to compete in a national economy.”
Travel isn’t going back to normal for a long time. “And what’s the #1 thing people love about travel?” asked Ariel. “Food. We give consumers the ability to travel through their taste buds. Even though they might not be able to actually go to New Orleans or Chicago or Tel Aviv or Tokyo, we give them the opportunity to have the most famous restaurants in those places serve them their signature dish. We think that’s the future.”
People’s relationship with food has changed. “This is a trend we’ve been seeing for a while,” Ariel said, “but it has certainly accelerated this year. We talk about the emotional power of food – it’s no longer just for sustenance but for the experience. We’ve been able to tap into the emotional connection that surrounds people’s favorite dishes to give them another touchpoint to experience food as part of their everyday lives in their own homes.”
As a travel writer and foodie, all of this resonates with me and is why Goldbelly has become so important to my husband and me during the pandemic.
Right now, Ariel is gearing up for the Super Bowl, with Philly cheesesteaks, Buffalo wings, Trash Can Nachos and regional BBQ selling like crazy.
Personally, I’ve been eyeing those Trash Can Nachos from Guy Fieri for weeks and am very excited about our French Madeleine Kit by Daniel Boulud Kitchen, which just arrived yesterday. I’m also considering ordering a short rib meal from Zahav in Philadelphia, which I’ve been dreaming about ever since we ate there a few years ago.
“Generally speaking, people are really craving comfort food, given the state of the world,” said Ariel. “We hope that seeing that Goldbelly box outside their door puts a smile on their face.”
Let me assure you, Joe, it does.