If you’ve ever had a hankering for food from far away—your hometown, your college town, a city you’ve seen only through a computer screen—you’ll understand what prompted entrepreneur Joe Ariel to launch Goldbely, an online marketplace for the most craved menu items from food-focused cities around the country.
In Ariel’s case, it was a longing for buttermilk biscuits, fried chicken, and pecan pie from Nashville that led to the idea for Goldbely. He was living in New York at the time and couldn’t find an authentic substitute for the Southern food he remembered from his undergrad days at Vanderbilt University – so he made a phone call and had a meal shipped to him. Even after the transit, it didn’t disappoint. “It was amazing,” he recalls. “I couldn’t believe how good it tasted. I couldn’t believe the nostalgia and memories I felt when I smelled the smells and tasted the familiar flavors.”
The former CEO of Delivery.com and Eats.com gathered the smartest people he knew to contribute to the technical and design aspects of the Goldbely concept. A founding team was formed, and shortly after creating the first iteration of the site, they were accepted into Y Combinator, widely considered the top tech start-up accelerator in the world. The self-proclaimed “food explorers” moved to Silicon Valley for what they thought would be a few months; three years later, they’ve put down roots in both San Francisco and New York. Goldbely has since been named one of five “Startups to Watch” by Inc. magazine and a Top 50 Website by Time.
While Ariel initially had to approach restaurants to sell on the site, now they approach Goldbely. The team looks for venues that represent “the best of the best of American food,” Ariel says. Every town has certain purveyors that specialize in regional fare, be it a butcher, a baker, a confectioner, or a seafood shop. Goldbely wants to showcase that, not just by selling the goods, but by telling the food maker’s story.
Goldbely also makes it easy for customers to find what they’re looking for—and discover new foods—on its site. Search by region, cuisine type, or even flavors (red velvet everything, anyone?). Staff recommendations, gift guides, and food holiday roundups (i.e. National Apple Pie Day) further help connect customers with what they want—and what they didn’t even know they wanted (Beer and pretzel caramels!).
Businesses ship the food directly to customers, but not before the Goldbely teams on both coasts taste-test every item on the site. In some cases, it can take up to six months of test shipments to ensure the food’s flavor and texture are equal to what you’d receive in the restaurant.
“I don’t think there’s anything we couldn’t figure out a way for it to happen,” Ariel says, offering up Primanti Bros. in Pittsburgh as an example. That venue’s iconic sandwich is stuffed with coleslaw, french fries, deli meat and Provolone cheese; the challenge was to figure out how to make sure the fries were crispy. By preparing the fries half-cooked, then instantly freezing them and shipping them cool, they maintain their texture. When reheated in the oven, “they come back to life, virtually the same as if they were out of the deep fryer in Pittsburgh,” Ariel says.
Popularity of products rotates depending on the time of year. During Mardi Gras, King Cakes are in demand; around Mother’s Day, it’s baked goods and chocolate; Father’s Day sees a spike in barbecue or pizza. Steadfast customer favorites include Momofuku Milk Bar cakes and Roberta’s Pizza from Brooklyn.
The careful curation of Goldbely’s offerings often garner comparisons to the e-commerce site Etsy, known for its handmade and vintage goods. In a lot of ways, Ariel says, that’s accurate. “Our goal is to empower food makers and artisans to scale their business, and for customers and consumers who are passionate about small-batch, and exciting, interesting, regional foods to have a place where they not only go to buy them, but discover new things.”
In other words, your next great meal is only a click away.