A partnership among several area businesses looks to make it easier to get locally sourced food to local residents.
LoudounGo will make its debut inside ChefScape’s Village at Leesburg space this week. What it brings to the Loudoun marketplace is a food distribution hub, located in the commercial kitchen space, that will provide a physical and an online market for Loudoun-based and other food vendors.
Founder Luke Baldwin also started sister company LoudounStay, which pulls together a network of Loudoun-based bed and breakfast establishments. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit stateside, Baldwin shifted his focus to LoudounGo, which has been in operation since May.
“We’re not going to be having people staying in our places now,” Baldwin realized upon COVID’s stateside landfall. “Let’s support and if we can help people move their product to people’s homes so they can keep their business and the marketplace going.”
Baldwin teamed up with EatLoco founder Dan Hine and Courtney West, owner of Chariots for Hire, to bring the idea to life. The group found an ideal location in a distribution center with ChefScape, which had the needed infrastructure already in place. Many relationships with area food producers, chefs and caterers were already forged, thanks to Hines’ role in the partnership as well as those who were already located within ChefScape.
“ChefScape is the infrastructure for a lot of these food and beverage businesses that need a location to operate out of, in a food incubation environment,” ChefScape COO Ginny Grivas said. “A lot of farmers market vendors that Dan manages are members of ChefScape. A lot of consumers Luke can deliver to or provide a platform for are our members. There’s a very natural partnership between the three of us.”
ChefScape also is providing space for assembling and distributing for the orders that LoudounGo receives for customers within a 100-mile radius, Grivas said. It will also have a marketplace area dedicated to LoudounGo products near the building’s entrance.
Also in that partnership is Chariots for Hire, which has had to shift its own transportation business, with proms and weddings mostly canceled or postponed because of COVID. Baldwin had planned to work with West on his LoudounStay business, providing a transportation option for those visiting Loudoun. When he called West with his idea to use Chariots for Hire to deliver the food products to consumers, he said West was all in. Having the familiarity with Loudoun’s road network, including its winding country roads, makes the company an ideal partner, Baldwin said.
“COVID has had a significant impact on our business and has left much of our fleet sitting in our parking lot and our drivers sitting at home. Our partnership with LoudounGo has been great because not only does it provide work for our drivers but it’s also a fantastic service for our community,” West said.
Grivas pointed out how many food vendors now have to depend on delivery for a significant source of their business income. The service offered by Chariots for Hire, at a lower cost than some of its food-delivery competitors she pointed out, cannot be understated.
In addition to offering food delivery to local residents, LoudounGo also boasts itself as the only ecommerce site that can broker online sales of wineries, breweries and distilleries straight from the source to someone’s house, Baldwin said.
LoudounGo also is working with JK Community Farms to encourage farmers to donate any products or prepared meals left over from farmers markets to local food pantries. A pickup spot for these donations will be housed at ChefScape, along with donation centers in Purcellville and Round Hill, Baldwin said.
Another special piece of the partnership puzzle is ChefScape’s relationship with Chef Erik Fox-Nettnin, who recently left Magolias at the Mill restaurant in Purcellville. Fox-Nettnin is set to join ChefScape as a member soon, Grivas said, and he will offer guidance to chefs on how they can pivot their businesses during the pandemic. Fox will also offer services as a mobile chef, where he can be hired to cater private meals, and even will provide Thanksgiving pick-up meals through his Polished Foxx catering company.
Baldwin is hopeful that the success of both LoudounGo and LoudounStay will be tied together, and will draw attention to the county as a special food and tourism destination.
“What my personal goal is for this is really helping people in the Washington metro area find a great experience in Loudoun County, find those nooks and crannies and special places in Loudoun County. Those that want to sell through us will have the platform. Additionally, it’s also educating folks that you can really buy local and don’t have to go to 30 different places. The more we can get people to commit to local, when they feel comfortable enough to come out, they’re going to come out and visit,” he said.
Grivas called the new company, “an incredible thing for our local economy.”
“LoudounGo is providing additional lines of revenue where there weren’t before,” she said. “Food trucks, farmers market [vendors] are displaced seasonally, some don’t know how to do online, or how to change and pivot their channel. With LoudounGo you can do this year round. We’re giving you a way to operate 12 months a year. Even before COVID a lot of these businesses didn’t have that.”