Homegrown entrepreneur expands online food delivery service

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Matt Gardner
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A Prince Albert-bred entrepreneur is preparing to expand his innovative business into the old hometown.

As president of the online food service delivery service Skip The Dishes, Josh Simair has overseen the rapid growth of his company across Western Canada.

Now Skip The Dishes is planning further expansion into eight additional cities, with Prince Albert topping the list.

“Being from Prince Albert, I was always really excited when Prince Albert would get great new services, because being in Saskatchewan, being in the middle of Canada, (it) sometimes gets overlooked by great services,” Simair said.

“So we’re really proud to be able to in the coming months bring a world-class service to Prince Albert as well.”

Growing up in P.A., Simair attended Holy Cross School and St. Mary High School before going on to study finance at the University of Saskatchewan.

After graduating, he took on a position as an investment banker in London, England -- and it was in that job that the seeds of Skip The Dishes were first planted in his mind.

“We ordered a ton of food to our desk every night, and I started to notice that there were first-generation online ordering systems starting to pop up,” Simair recalled.

“It was really useful and it was really helpful … You have to work later and order more food to your desk, and both of my brothers are software engineers. So we thought, ‘You know what, let’s do this in Western Canada -- in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, B.C.’”

Launching in late 2012, Skip The Dishes quickly expanded from its Saskatoon base into Alberta and Manitoba.

The wide range of the company’s customers belied many of its founders’ expectations.

“We started off just thinking it was going to be a corporate ordering tool -- so just for people working late night in offices,” Simair said. “But then it really took off a lot more than we even imagined.

“I mean, it was people in hospitals, it was single dads, single moms, people in care homes ordering in … everyone just started using Skip The Dishes.”

The service works in a manner that Simair compared to an “online food court.”

To order food online, customers visit the company’s website at  www.skipthedishes.ca to see which restaurants are nearby and where delivery is available before placing their orders through the site.

We’ll launch the delivery network as we start to get a bit of traction in P.A. Josh Simair

A team of part-time independent contractors is responsible for delivering the food.

“Most of our food couriers are students, pensioners or people looking for extra income,” Simair said.

To process such a large number of orders, the founders of Skip The Dishes developed special software that gave it an advantage over other food couriers.

Traditionally, such services have relied on people dispatching drivers over the phone.

“If you imagine several hundred orders coming at once, and if there’s ever a restaurant delay or any exception that happens, it’s nearly impossible for a human to do that,” Simair said.

“So it’s always limited how many orders you can do at once. It raises the costs -- it’s very difficult.”

One of the main selling points for Skip The Dishes is its ability to provide delivery services for restaurants that had not previously offered delivery.

“Every restaurateur that I know at least is very hard-working and focused on making great food,” Simair said.

“What we do is allow them to stay focused on making great food and we handle all the logistics, all the online part, and make sure that they can focus on what they do best … At the end of the day, we’re giving them extra orders that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

Since last year, the number of full-time employees at Skip The Dishes has increased from two to 40, and Simair aims to increase that number to 100 within the next year as the company expands into new cities.

The company president is planning a protracted rollout of Skip The Dishes in Prince Albert over the next several months, with Simair hoping to start out with 10 restaurants in the city.

Among the local establishments that will be involved are Amy’s On Second Restaurant, Spicy Peppercorn, WK Kitchen and chains such as Wok Box.

“We’re going to have to build up some demand first and then maybe in August, September, we’ll probably launch the delivery network there,” Simair said.

“So it’d be more with restaurants that (already) deliver at first, and then we’ll launch the delivery network as we start to get a bit of traction in P.A.”

Organizations: Skip The Dishes, Prince Albert, Holy Cross School Mary High School University of Saskatchewan Wok Box

Geographic location: Western Canada, Saskatchewan, Alberta Manitoba London England Saskatoon

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