Pedal power of Quickness RVA

How a simple idea has turned into a Richmond staple.

Frank Bucalo’s competition may one day hover over him like vultures while he rides his bicycle.

“We’re going to start taking out drones if they start taking our delivery jobs,” jokes Bucalo, founder of Quickness RVA, Richmond’s pedal-powered food delivery service.

While “dronies” become a thing, using pilotless aircraft to deliver things seems years away1, but something Bucalo envisions. “Restaurants might get two or three drones that just come and take their food around town,” he said.

Until that day arrives, local restaurants have Quickness RVA.

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Bucalo moved from New York City to Richmond “looking for a little more Southern lifestyle,” he said. After arriving, the twenty-something did what other twenty-somethings do: “Hung out, rode bikes, drank beer. Kind of planting my feet. Meeting people; going to shows.”

Before long, he confronted an inconvenience so often part and parcel with loafing. “The more you hang out, the more you need money to keep hanging out.” In New York, Bucalo delivered food on his bicycle. “Why not see if I can get it going here?”

He launched Quickness RVA in June 2010 with a simple business plan: customers order food from a local restaurant that doesn’t have delivery service, the restaurant arranges a pick-up with Quickness, and a dispatched rider delivers the order.

While the idea was straightforward and gave restaurants added revenue through deliveries, Quickness RVA was a tough sell initially: nothing like Quickness yet existed in Richmond and restaurants weren’t completely confident in the new business.

Quickness RVA got its gears spinning with its first partner, Strange Matter. “At the beginning, it was just Strange Matter, so I was on call for them 11 hours a day, six days a week,” Bucalo said. He averaged just 10 orders a week shortly after starting. “The first couple of weeks, it was probably all just spent on me going around and marketing [Quickness]; passing out menus and telling people and trying to get it to catch on.”

Within three months, Bucalo added nearby restaurants Mama’s Kitchen and Harrison Street Cafe. “Since I was by myself, I was really focused on building up around [that area near VCU],” he said.

If there were doubts about Quickness RVA increasing business, they were allayed by Quickness’ influence on Mama’s Kitchen. “Mama’s Kitchen got so busy…they couldn’t handle the amount of phone calls and orders,” Bucalo said. “They said it’s too much business. We’re going to have to call it quits.”

While both Mama’s Kitchen and Harrison Street Cafe have since parted ways with Quickness, Bucalo’s business now works with 23 restaurants:2 Sticky ToGoGo, Bellytimber Tavern, The Pig & Pearl, and others. “People just needed to see if we were going to stick around and take [the business] seriously,” Bucalo said. “Now it’s blowing up.”

As such, Quickness RVA has gone from a company of one to now employing 13 riders. “Not all 13 people are out there all the time,” Bucalo said. Riders can work a lunch shift (11:00 AM – 4:30 PM) or a dinner shift (4:30 – 10:00 PM). The number of riders per shift depends on the shift itself. “We add more riders during busier times,” like Friday lunch, which is “one our busiest shifts,” Bucalo said. Typically, Friday lunch has five riders on call.

Bucalo said that a typical rider makes between 15 – 30 deliveries per shift and that Quickness does between 900 – 1,000 deliveries each week. The largest order Quickness RVA has delivered was a $500 one from Alamo BBQ.

For an order of that size, Quickness uses one of four “cargo bikes” that can lug just over 300 lbs. “We do large catering orders with those kinds of [bikes],” Bucalo said. “I really want to push the catering and the large order thing a lot more because I see the potential there.”

When an order comes in, restaurants phone a Quickness dispatcher who is in charge of coordinating the pick-up and delivery routes of available riders. “Beside knowing the city, we know how to manage when there are 12 deliveries coming in at the middle of lunch time from all these restaurants. We can keep track of [the deliveries] and make sure they get there.”

For example, a rider gets a pick-up at Lamplighter to be delivered somewhere in Carytown. That rider then picks up a Sticky ToGoGo order in The Fan for delivery somewhere in Scott’s Addition, and then picks up an order from LUNCH, and so on. “You may pick up from all 20-plus restaurants in one day,” Bucalo said. Although restaurants do limit deliveries to locations within specific zones.

Initially, Quickness charged a flat hourly rate to restaurants, but the company now charges a fixed percentage based on total sales at the end of the day. So, for example, if Sticky ToGoGo does $300 in delivery sales, Quickness receives a certain percentage of the gross sales.

To ensure Quickness riders stay true to the name, Bucalo trains each one before deploying them. “Riders have to know their way around. So I’ll ride with them, they’ll shadow me on a shift, and I’ll quiz them,” he said. “There are faster ways through the city. You can take the nice, scenic route every time, but when you’re trying to get someone their food in a timely manner, you want to get there the quickest way you can.”

Some riders even deliver alcohol. Three restaurants (Olio, The Pig & Pearl, and Chow House) have the necessary ABC permits that allow Quickness to deliver wine and beer. “It is really convenient and nice” for customers to pair both food and drink into a single delivery, Bucalo said.

Bucalo’s considered formally expanding services to include deliveries beyond food, something Quickness has done for local businesses from time to time. “We’re not trying to serve legal documents, or traditional courier stuff like that,” he said. “But we’ve done post office runs for a local record store that needs to mail some stuff out…or a tattoo shop that needs art supplies picked up.”

But those instances are unique and involve businesses that Bucalo typically has a relationship with. “We haven’t developed an on-call system for everyone.” But if Quickness does develop one, Bucalo said it won’t detract from Quickness’ bread and butter. “I wouldn’t want to jeopardize our quick response times with the food by standing in line at the post office when there’s a [food order] to be delivered.”

Riders will deliver more food to parks and other outdoor locations with warmer weather in town. “If you’re at a park and want some food sent there, or you want to surprise a loved one with a surprise picnic…we think it’s something that has a cool potential to catch on,” Bucalo said.

At least before the drones arrive.

  1. Although Jeff Bezos wants to change that
  2. Lair RVA was added last week. 
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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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