Some Cornellians’ stomachs might be feeling a little more full thanks to a student-run startup that hand-delivers breakfast to your doorstep — including offerings such as avocado toast and acai bowl on its palate.
Suna Breakfast, a startup co-founded by Christophe Gerlach ’20 and Pedro Bobrow ’20, first began operating last semester with a basic premise: Cornell students could place a breakfast order the night before and select a 10-minute window where the food would be delivered to their doorstep the next morning.
The service, run by a team of 22 students from various backgrounds and majors, initially partnered with Lincoln Street Diner, a downtown Ithaca restaurant, before ultimately deciding to hire a chef and rent its own kitchen space.
But while the service gained traction quickly — the business put out at least 1500 orders last semester — the model of sourcing its food from the diner and commercial kitchen didn’t perform as well as the co-founders had hoped, Gerlach said.
But the young startup caught a lucky break. Over the summer, Suna reached out to Cornell Dining, which often has “extra dining capacity” in the morning due to a lower volume of customers in hopes of securing a mutually beneficial relationship — in which Cornell Dining would produce the breakfast for Suna while the students would handle the delivery. After negotiations, that partnership officially launched on Tuesday.
Suna’s menu offerings can be delivered to any location within one-and-a-half miles of the Central Campus and are distributed through a team of drivers coordinated by a “sophisticated algorithm” that can map out orders in the most efficient way, Gerlach said.
That system has enabled Suna to undercut its Ithaca delivery rivals by almost an order of magnitude.
“The delivery fee is only 79 cents per order. The reason why it is so low compared to other delivery systems is that we can deliver up to 18 orders per hour … Because we can deliver a multitude of orders on each trip, we don’t have to charge our customers as much,” Gerlach said.
All of Suna’s drivers are students, who — at $13 per hour — are paid more than the regular hourly pay rate at Cornell. For those who don’t have class until 11:15, they can make an extra 40 dollars using that window, Bobrow said.
An ongoing challenge Gerlach and Bobrow grappled with has been to encourage students to plan their schedules ahead of time.
“The way the current delivery system works is that you are hungry and you choose to go and order. We want people to be willing to order something that they don’t want at that point in time,” Bobrow said.
While getting breakfast delivered “does sound a bit silly at first,” Bobrow stressed that Suna’s less-than-a-dollar delivery fee is intended to have mass appeal so it can actually benefit students who “need to go significantly out of their way” for a quality breakfast.
But even as Suna continues to grow into the Cornell market, its main priority is not to make excess profits but to ensure that every order is delivered timely and of high quality, Gerlach and Bobrow told The Sun. And that strategy has paid off: The start-up has a customer retention rate of nearly 60 percent, they said — a figure well above the industry average.
Suna was also accepted into the startup accelerator Techstars, which offered a $120,000 investment for a minority stake in the business. Gerlach and Bobrow, however, turned down the offer to pursue their summer internships and to graduate on time, but their plan for Suna is not limited to the Ithaca.
“Two of our teammates flew to Texas and got second place at South by Southwest’s nationwide College Startup Competition,” Gerlach said. “We are [also] going to Cornell Silicon Valley in two weeks to pitch the business.”
Corrections: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Cornell Dining sells excess breakfast items to Suna Breakfast. In fact, Cornell Dining produces breakfast items specifically for Suna Breakfast based on the orders it receives every day. The article also incorrectly stated that Cornell Dining first reached out to Suna in November. In fact, Suna reached out to Cornell Dining over the summer.