When Providoor launched in 2020 at the height of Melbourne's restrictions, it was a game-changer for the locked-down restaurant industry.
The service, founded by chef-restaurateur and TV personality Shane Delia, connected diners with locked-down restaurants, and delivered them meals to finish at home, and serve hot and fresh at their dinner tables.
Twelve months on and with Victoria, Greater Sydney and its surrounds in lockdown, Providoor is launching in New South Wales and the ACT, with a coterie of celebrated Sydney restaurants on its client list.
Delia had always planned to expand Providoor interstate; Sydney's lockdown has simply hastened its roll-out. "It was in our growth strategy to launch in October this year. But I had so many of my restaurant mates in Sydney asking, "Can you come now?"
Delia is no start-up tech whizz. The man behind Melboure's Maha, Maha East and Maha Bar is more comfortable manning kitchens and opening restaurants, but he's doing his part to help Sydney restaurants weather the worst of the current restrictions. "I feel more pressure with Providoor because I'm the custodian of 70-plus brands; some are multi-generational restaurants, national treasures. I have a duty of care to these brands."
Here's how it works: order online from Providoor's list of restaurant partners including Monopole, The Apollo, Rockpool Bar and Grill, and Ho Jiak by 4pm. The next day, your meals will be delivered to your door in a refrigerated van. Follow the preparation instructions – heat a sauce here, toss a salad there – for a restaurant-quality meal in minimal time.
And unlike third-party delivery platforms that take up to a 35 per cent cut of the profits, Providoor takes a 15 per cent commission.
"It benefits the restaurant. I'm a restaurateur; I'm not a multinational conglomerate with huge operating expenses. Yes, Providoor has to make a profit to pay my small team, but we're here to support our industry. That's the nuts and bolts of it," says Delia.
He adds many of Providoor's clients are not just business associates, but friends too. "I have to look at them in the eye and go to their restaurants. How can I do that if I'm charging a 30, 40, 50 per cent [commission]?"
Although its popularity soared during Melbourne's lockdown – in 2020, it delivered 512,000 meals and generated a reported $40 million in revenue back to restaurants – Delia says it's not strictly a "lockdown business". He's gone on the record before about the deep, systemic issues that plagued the hospitality industry – high overheads, notoriously low profit margins – even in pre-COVID times. He pitches Providoor as one longer-term solution to help restaurants diversify their income streams.
"I've always believed hospitality is one of the most beautiful industries in the world, but we're so crippled by the confines of our rest. We invest millions of dollars in beautiful dining rooms, but if the restaurants aren't full, we have the same operating costs," he says. "What I want to do is provide restaurants the opportunity to speak to more customers."
And in the 12 months since Providoor's launch, he says the product has only improved. Melbourne restaurants go beyond just supplying the food; they'll throw in coasters, chopsticks, and even incense to mimic the full, sensory restaurant experience. Maha orders, for example, include a link to the restaurant's Spotify playlist, programmed by Delia himself, and spans artists from the Eagles to Lauryn Hill.
And as for getting the most of the Providoor experience, the devil is in the detail. Pull out the nice china, says Delia. "If you stick it on a stark white plate that's been through the dishwasher a hundred times, it's never going to look great. Get some sexy plates." Dim the lights. Set the table. Hit play on the music. And order Providoor, says Delia. "The restaurants need it. You want it. So get behind it."