This week Julia Lescht ’23 and I had the pleasure to meet Will Harvey ’22, founder of The Eating Club at Cornell University. As a current junior in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR), Harvey was inspired to launch The Eating Club as an affordable option for college students for homestyle meals.
The Eating Club offers a subscription based food service that caters and delivers meals to students’ doorsteps. Every Saturday, Harvey’s mother and grandfather prepare a delicious meal in Rochester, which is then transported to a packaging area in Ithaca and sent out for delivery between 4 and 5 p.m. Each meal includes a main dish, a side, a cookie and a bottle of Fiji water. The club’s mission is to provide a sense of comfort and community for students by providing them delicious, warm meals during a time when in-person activities are limited.
“Food is definitely a very communal activity,” Harvey said. “When you are eating food, normally, you are eating with other people. You are going out to eat food, and I think that the eating club provides that cool alternative of utilizing our digital resources and knowing that everybody is receiving the same meal on Saturday. It’s almost this collective dinner that’s happening across the entire membership.”
Part of Harvey’s inspiration comes from his experience living in a fraternity house. Several Greek houses have chefs who provide students meals during the week and do not work on the weekends, leaving them to fend for themselves, which can be costly and inconvenient at times.
“Ordering out was something that I was spending so much money on last year in particular. I would spend $25 on a Grubhub meal on a Saturday evening,” Harvey said. Even if he was going out to eat, “It was hard to get together a group of people and figure out what we wanted to eat, where we wanted to eat and how we wanted to eat. Most of the time when I was preparing myself food, I would just make a bowl of ramen and struggle in the cooking department.”
So far, Harvey has successfully addressed this need because the club has 58 members and continues to grow; he has seen a 98 percent retention rate, demonstrating high customer satisfaction. Customers are also highly active on social media, which contributes to this virtual community at a time where meeting in-person is less socially acceptable and feasible due to COVID-19. For example, Nick Grazioso ’23, who is Harvey’s fraternity brother, used his Instagram to promote The Eating Club.
“[Harvey] started an Instagram page early on, and a lot of [the fraternity members and our friends] would share that on their stories so the rest of the Cornell community would hear about it. Luckily, that allowed people in other houses to join as well,” Grazioso said.
The subscription costs $12 a week and includes a main dish, two or three sides, a frozen Fiji water for modified refrigeration, delivery fees and a complimentary Eating Club t-shirt. The first 50 members to sign up also received a sweatshirt. The Eating Club has cooked up many meals this semester, including chicken alfredo with green beans and a dinner roll, Korean beef with Cantonese egg noodles, chicken enchilada bake and fried rice with asian style pork tenderloin.
“The team is my grandpa, my mom and me. I’ve been doing all the marketing and accounting practices and the legal stuff, and that’s similar to things I’ve learned in the past from doing other entrepreneurial projects,” Harvey said.
Harvey’s introduction to the food industry is a fascinating story. When he was 16, Will’s grandfather gave him a hot dog cart for his birthday, explaining to him and his brother that they could either sell it or figure out how to get it up and running.
“That summer my brother and I talked, and we asked ‘why don’t we do this?’ We’re sophomores in high school and might as well,” Harvey said. “We got all the necessary permits and just started operating. Four years down the line and we had four different locations.” They also transformed this venture into a successful catering business and ran concession stands for a local sports park.
From this experience, Harvey was inspired to help out the Cornell community. He recognized that many students waste money on fast meals that lack nutrition and flavor, and that Greek life communities often don’t have house meals on Saturdays. Regardless of where students live on campus, COVID-19 has brought about unique challenges in accessing food. As a result, The Eating Club upholds the communal value in eating, as students across campus know that everyone is enjoying the same meal at the same time. The Eating Club’s final week this fall semester was Saturday, Nov. 14, but the club will be up and running come spring.
Sofia Siciliani is a junior in the College of Human Ecology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julia Lescht is a sophomore in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at email@example.com.