On the day of his photo shoot for this article, President and CEO of Chef Shuttle Ryan Herget emailed me at 4:30 a.m. He’d just finished launching Chef Shuttle in the Memphis market and was planning to snag a few minutes of shut-eye before meeting our team downtown.
For some, this work-all-night-and-then-all-day lifestyle seems insane. But as a small business owner, Herget has his head in the right place. He knows there’s no time clock to punch; you work until the work is done.
“I typically get into the office around 9 a.m. and leave around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. On Saturday and Sunday, I get in around 4 p.m. One of my employees reminded me the other day that there hasn’t been a day since we opened that I haven’t been at the office,” Herget recalls. “However, I enjoy what I do and I enjoy working with our team. No one is forcing me to work the hours I work. I do it because this is my company, and my employees are my family.”
A native of Little Rock, Herget, 24, attended the Cathedral School and Episcopal Collegiate School through eighth grade. He graduated from Catholic High School, a place he credits for his level of maturity.
“I owe a lot to Catholic High School and to Steve Straessle, Richard Cochran and David Estes. Those three men put up with my antics both in the classroom and on the football field and helped instill values in me that I still live by today,” he says.
After high school, Herget attended Ole Miss, where he majored in insurance. His father, Eric Herget, is president of The Holmes Organisation of Arkansas and the younger Herget had planned to follow in his footsteps. He graduated and accepted a position with a large insurance brokerage in New York, but about a month in, began to dream about starting his own company.
Herget says he wanted to capitalize on the opportunity to facilitate the delivery of products within hours of them being purchased.
“After realizing that there was a void in Little Rock to have food delivered to your home or office, I decided that I would start a company that would deliver food from a restaurant to a customer and would also give me the infrastructure to expand outside of the delivery of food. So far, that decision has been a good one,” he says.
Like a lot of startups, Chef Shuttle had humble beginnings.
“Chef Shuttle was launched in my living room on February 3, 2014, with seven restaurant partners and three delivery drivers serving Little Rock,” Herget says.
In little more than a year, the business has grown exponentially, from 10-20 orders a day to 500-plus a day. They have outgrown three office spaces and recently moved into the fourth, and hopefully final, space. Herget says Chef Shuttle services 12 cities in Arkansas and Tennessee with over 200 restaurant partners, 150 drivers and more than 15 employees. They receive a call volume of 250-plus every day.
“We are approaching 100,000 successful deliveries, and it blows my mind how far we’ve come.”
It’s a lot of responsibility for anyone, let alone a 20-something, and Herget is the first to admit his biggest challenge has been his lack of experience running a business with so many moving parts.
“Most 24-year-olds are working their way up the corporate ladder,” he says. “I eliminated the ladder and went straight to the top, and that wouldn’t have been possible without influential people in my life such as Dan Andrews, David Boerner, Jason and Stephen LaFrance and my father, Eric Herget.”
In April 2014, Chef Shuttle went through a round of funding with the LaFrance family. Their assistance — both financial and otherwise — has really helped Chef Shuttle follow an upward trajectory.
“They are not only my partners, they are mentors who help me work through challenges and evaluate opportunities,” Herget says of the LaFrances. “I have learned a lot in my 24 years, but nothing could have prepared me for everything that has happened over the last year. I have had to evolve from a startup in my living room to an executive with hundreds of individuals relying on me to make the right decision. Dan [who manages the LaFrance’s investments] is there helping me make those decisions every day, helping learn from my mistakes and always pushing me to get better.”
How it Works
Put simply, Chef Shuttle acts as a liaison between restaurants that don’t offer delivery and customers who wish they did.
“A customer goes to ChefShuttle.com and our website walks them through the ordering process,” Herget says. “You select a date (you can order up to 30 days in advance), a delivery time and what restaurant you want. Customers then check out through ChefShuttle.com using a credit or debit card.”
From there, Chef Shuttle’s dispatchers coordinate the order with the restaurant and send a driver to get the food and take it to the customer. The drivers use insulated heating bags to keep the food hot and fresh. The only additional cost customers pay is $4.95 to Chef Shuttle for the service.
It’s really a win-win-win. Customers pay a nominal fee to have food delivered to their door, the restaurants get business they wouldn’t otherwise have, and Chef Shuttle gets their piece of the pie, too.
It’s also the perfect way to send food as a gift, say to a family with a new baby. This writer has been on both the giving and receiving ends of Chef Shuttle orders and must admit, the experience has been easy and satisfying.
“Studies have shown that most of a restaurant’s customers live within a 5-mile radius,” Herget says. “Chef Shuttle allows restaurants to double or triple that radius and get their food into households that typically would not make the drive to eat it. From a customer standpoint, life is stressful, the unexpected happens and things never seem to go as planned. Chef Shuttle brings the food that you want to wherever you want it and when you want it, making life easier.”
Up the Road
Currently, Chef Shuttle serves Benton, Bryant, Cabot, Conway, Jacksonville, Little Rock, Maumelle, North Little Rock and Sherwood in Arkansas; and Collierville, Memphis and Germantown in Tennessee.
Over the next three months, Herget has big plans. He says he will continue to expand within central Arkansas and also open a location in Hot Springs. The Memphis office plans to open delivery to downtown Memphis, Cordova, Bartlett and Southaven, Mississippi, and a Northwest Arkansas office is slated to open later this month.
“My goal is to continue to expand in Arkansas and Tennessee while opening operations in Mississippi, Missouri and Texas over the next 12 months,” Herget says.
Chef Shuttle currently offers floral delivery through a partnership with Kroger, but there are plans in the works to expand the non-food-related offerings even more.
“We are actively working on dry cleaner, grocery and eventually liquor delivery,” Herget says. “We have the dispatchers, drivers and software in place, so adding other delivery options is a top priority.”
Whatever markets Chef Shuttle chases in the future, you can be sure of one thing: the customers will be the driving force behind their decisions.
When their call volume increased by hundreds, instead of outsourcing to a call center, Chef Shuttle hired more dispatchers to answer customers’ calls in a timely, personal manner. Most of the new restaurants Chef Shuttle partners with are added because a customer calls and requests them. Moreover, Herget says the majority of Chef Shuttle’s new customers come from friend and co-worker referrals.
“So, our growth is attributed to our customers,” he concludes. “We have thousands of customers who order multiple times a month, so our dispatchers and drivers know who our customers are and they end up becoming much more than a name on a screen. Our dispatchers help our customers, and our customers help Chef Shuttle.”
Soirée: What motivates you?
Ryan Herget: I was lucky to have great parents, Pam Boerner and Eric Herget, who stressed the importance of hard work. As Chef Shuttle has grown, I continue to work hard but I find motivation knowing that I am responsible for others and that my decisions directly affect them. There are decisions made every day that my employees and drivers do not know about, but if the wrong decision is made, could cost them their job. That is all the motivation I need.
What has been your greatest success?
The hiring of amazing employees that hold everything together. They deserve all of the credit because they are the heart and soul of this company. We all follow one simple rule: CARE about your customers, drivers, restaurants and co-workers.
Dave Matthews. If you see a guy driving a black Tahoe singing Dave, that’s me.
What are you reading?
I read about a new person every week and try to learn from the advice they have given others. This week I am reading about Jim Barksdale.
Sunrise or sunset?
Sunset. Sunrise is my sign that I have been at the office too long.
Coffee or tea?
Red Bull. I am hoping it gives me wings so I can avoid the drive to Memphis.
Chef Shuttle hours of service: 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday