We visit the kitchen of bike-couriered sandwich service Lilly’s Lunches to see how owner Elizabeth Callahan keeps the orders rolling out the door.
Elizabeth Callahan started Lilly’s Lunches—a small business that bike-couriers homemade sandwiches to your office—with a party. “I invited a bunch of people,” Callahan explains, “and the goal was to get 25 people signed up that night, and I did. So that was my first month.”
With the help of some well-timed press, Callahan’s idea has gained a significant amount of admirers. “The busiest day I had was about 65 [orders],” Callahan tells us, while preparing The Heidi, a Thanksgiving leftovers-style sammie with turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potato, and astonishingly un-vegetarian-tasting vegetarian gravy. “And they all fit in the bike, magically!”
While starving her way through study hall in university, Callahan started daydreaming about launching a campus lunch service, but was too busy writing papers to get it off the ground. When she found herself still thinking about the concept several years later, she made a decision: “I thought to myself, ‘I’m 25, I don’t have debt, I have this idea which I think is great, I have a little bit of savings, I can write a grant—why not just give it a year or two and see what happens?’”
The Lilly’s Lunches business model is simple, yet savvy. Instead of ordering by-the-meal, customers purchase a $40 membership that gets them one meal a week for four weeks. You choose a sandwich, a side, and a sweet (may we suggest the moist and delectable “Bikini” bread, made with banana, zucchini, and chocolate chips?), and Callahan will bike it to your place of business, complete with a hand-written “love note.” (Consult the Lilly’s Lunches website for delivery boundaries.) Beyond filling their stomachs, Callahan wants her customers to feel like they’re getting a made-with-love treat from a thoughtful best friend, parent, or main squeeze.
The Lilly’s Lunches business day begins around 8 a.m., when Callahan orders her bread and meat. Then, it’s off to a shared group-kitchen in the basement of Burger Bar at 316 Augusta Ave. “I live just around the corner,” she explains, “so I bike down to the bakery and I pick up my bread. Then, I come up here and I prep all of the paper bags and get the sides and desserts ready and plunk them all in. Then, my helper comes in, and we pump out the sandwiches and gab over coffee. At around 10 a.m., I’m out the door.”
Deliveries take place beginning at 10 a.m., so that customers are sure to have their lunch by noon. “It doesn’t take me long to get around town,” Callahan says. “I don’t think I’ve ever been on the bike for more than an hour and a half.”
Since Callahan doesn’t want to be biking sandwiches through the snow, Lilly’s is a seasonal operation for now. But while the sun continues to shine (and the orders continue to fly in), Callahan looks forward to continuing to feed hungry working boys and girls. “The two things I can think of that I would want to do if no one was paying me is make food and ride my bike,” she admits. “And I get to do those two things.”