When the pandemic started last spring, Di Fara, one of New York City’s storied pizza joints, had the same question as countless restaurants nationwide: How would it make any money when customers weren’t allowed through its doors?
One answer quickly emerged: Ship frozen (and slightly smaller) versions of its classic pies across the country in partnership with the eight-year-old e-commerce platform Goldbelly.
Sales picked up so much that Di Fara converted its two-year-old second location, in a food hall, to essentially be a Goldbelly production line. Margaret Mieles, the daughter of Di Fara’s founder, who had already struck an agreement with Goldbelly in December 2019, credits the platform with helping the pizzeria avoid layoffs.
It isn’t just iconic pizzerias that have relied on Goldbelly to survive lockdown orders. More than 400 of the 850 restaurants that sell food on Goldbelly’s platform have joined since the start of the pandemic, an influx that the company says has more than quadrupled sales over the past 12 months.
Parkway Bakery & Tavern in New Orleans, recalled dodging calls from Goldbelly representatives pitching the platform for more than a year, before relenting in September 2019. Even then, he said in an interview, he would ship perhaps 15 boxes in any given week.
Then pandemic lockdowns devastated the restaurant industry. More than 110,000 restaurants nationwide had permanently closed by December, the National Restaurant Association estimated, and a survey it conducted found that sales in October had dropped from a year earlier for 87 percent of the full-service survivors.
Mr. Kennedy shut Parkway in March 2020. When he restarted the business several months later, he began by shipping its signature po’ boy sandwiches through Goldbelly. At the height of the pandemic, Parkway shipped around 200 orders a week, doing roughly the same business that it had done prepandemic — only now its customers included people far from New Orleans.
“We got customers from Alaska calling us, asking us what to do for leftovers,” Mr. Kennedy said. “These are customers we would never have had.”
Some restaurants seeking alternate sources of revenue during the pandemic turned to local delivery services; total orders on DoorDash’s platform in 2020, for instance, jumped roughly threefold from the previous year.
But like Mr. Kennedy, many also turned to Goldbelly to ship their pork shoulder dinners, bagel brunches and huckleberry cheesecakes to locations as far away as Hawaii. (Goldbelly doesn’t consider services like DoorDash to be rivals, since its food generally takes at least a day to arrive and requires cooking).
grilled eggplant parm — something that previously would never have been served at the Michelin-starred restaurant — in part because it would do well on Goldbelly.
Spectrum Equity, the investment firm that is leading the new financing round, reached out to Goldbelly last year as it saw how the company was able to connect local restaurants with a national audience.
“The pandemic has really accelerated trends that were already happening,” said Pete Jensen, a managing director at Spectrum, adding that Goldbelly’s growth has been “extraordinary.”
Mr. Ariel said the fresh capital — raised at an undisclosed valuation — would help Goldbelly expand further, including by hiring more staff and augmenting new offerings like livestreamed cooking classes with celebrity chefs, including Marcus Samuelsson and Daniel Boulud. The company is looking to have more than 1,000 restaurants on its platform by year-end.
The goal, Mr. Ariel said, is to make Goldbelly the biggest platform on which restaurants make money outside of in-person dining, while expanding their brands nationally.
Streetbird is on the Goldbelly platform.
But others, like Ms. Mieles of Di Fara, said they remained committed to the service. “I think, honestly, Goldbelly is here to stay,” she said.
It has been only five weeks since New York State legalized the use of recreational marijuana. The board that will oversee the rollout has yet to be appointed, let alone rules set for how licenses will be issued to cannabis businesses. The sale of legal pot in the state is still a year away. And, of course, marijuana remains illegal on the federal level.
But already the rush is on to get a piece of what could be a $4.2 billion industry in the Empire State.
Brokers are talking to landlords about leasing storefronts to dispensaries. Representatives of out-of-state cannabis businesses are flying in to scope out properties. And suppliers of medical marijuana are expanding in the hope that they will be able to branch into recreational sales.
Agricultural land upstate is now marketed as being “in the green zone” for hemp farming or the construction of grow houses for cultivating marijuana.
may soon change.
heated discussions among local officials, some of whom “can’t fathom the idea of the devil’s lettuce businesses within their borders,” said Neil M. Willner, co-chair of the cannabis practice at Royer Cooper Cohen Braunfeld, a New York City law firm.
But the pandemic may have softened the stance of some officials, given the jobs and tax revenue that cannabis businesses can generate after the protracted health crisis has decimated both. The state estimates that the new industry could bring it $350 million in annual revenue and create 30,000 to 60,000 jobs.
Meanwhile, funding is pouring into the industry in anticipation of possible federal legalization, some lenders will now do business with cannabis companies, and real estate investment trusts have sprung up to serve marijuana interests.
an increase in purchasing over leasing in the past year.
“Going forward, when banking becomes more normalized for us — when we have the opportunity to get real estate debt in the way traditional industries do — we would have a preference for owning real estate,” said Barrington Rutherford, senior vice president of real estate and community integration at Cresco Labs, a cannabis company with operations in several states.
law firms, consultants, insurance agents and accountants specializes in helping clients jump through regulatory hoops. A listing service that is the industry’s answer to Zillow offers a wide range of real estate, from $65,000 lots in an industrial park in Lexington, Okla., to a $109 million, 45,000-square-foot grow house in San Bernardino, Calif.
The brick-and-mortar side of cannabis real estate has also evolved.
As cultivation of marijuana has become more sophisticated, grow houses have expanded — they can be 150,000 square feet or more, with high ceilings, heavy-duty ventilation, lighting and security. Processing typically occurs in separate buildings with high-tech machinery.
dispensaries are increasingly stylish, offering a rarefied retail experience. Accomplished architecture and design firms have gotten into the act. There are even companies that specialize in kitting out dispensaries and other cannabis real estate.
And as marijuana gains broader public acceptance — and some celebrity glamour, with Jay-Z’s Monogram and Seth Rogen’s Houseplant — stores are opening in prominent locations near traditional retailers.
“We’re next to Starbucks in downtown Chicago,” Mr. Rutherford said. “In Philadelphia, the store we’re opening is a half block from Shake Shack and down the block from Macy’s.”
“We are building a portfolio of sites that would be enviable by any retail organization,” he added.
The New York State law also provides for licenses for “consumption sites,” and this is expected to give rise to clublike lounges and cannabis cafes. The prospect of such convivial settings has led to predictions that New York City may become the next Amsterdam.
These new storefront uses would appear to be a godsend for New York’s retail real estate market, where availability has increased and rents have fallen.
“A few years ago, when the market was stronger, it was harder to find landlords willing to play ball,” said Benjamin S. Birnbaum, a broker at the real estate services firm Newmark. “What’s changed, because of the pandemic, is that every landlord is willing to talk about it.”
in a recent CNBC interview.
Regardless of size, opening a dispensary can be complicated and expensive, in part because states have required that would-be retailers have control of a site, through a lease or option to lease, before they can apply for a license. But the number of licenses in some states is limited, with no guarantee a business will get one.
In Oregon, some applicants had to wait so long — one or two years, said Andrew DeWeese, a lawyer with Green Light Law Group in Portland — they eventually gave up and essentially sold their place in line.
“It’s a Catch-22,” said Kristin Jordan, a cannabis lawyer in New York City. “You want to secure real estate, but you don’t want to jump the gun.”
Still, the prospect of operating in New York, a state with more than 19 million residents and a major tourist destination, is so enticing that cannabis companies are getting their ducks in row.
Companies that have medical dispensaries, which have been operating since 2016, are in an enviable position because it is believed they will have an advantage in securing additional licenses.
Cresco Labs has four medical dispensaries in New York, including one in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. It is unclear whether the state will allow recreational marijuana to be sold at those locations, but Mr. Rutherford is hedging his bets, adding parking and in some cases expanding by leasing a storefront next door to an existing space.
“We are making sure those stores are ready for the future adult use market,” he said.
Long before the coronavirus hit, nutrition programs that served the nation’s older adults struggled to keep up with a growing demand. Often, they could not.
In Charlotte, N.C., and nine surrounding counties, for example, the waiting list for Meals on Wheels averaged about 1,200 people. But Linda Miller, director of the Centralina Area Agency on Aging, which coordinates the program, always assumed the actual need was higher.
She knew some clients skipped meals because they couldn’t travel to a senior center for a hot lunch every weekday; some divided a single home-delivered meal to serve as both lunch and dinner.
Some never applied for help. “Just like with food stamps, which are underused,” Ms. Miller said, “people are embarrassed: ‘I worked hard all my life; I don’t want charity.’”
5.4 million older recipients.
For years, advocates for older adults have lobbied Congress for more significant federal help. Although the Older Americans Act has enjoyed bipartisan support, small annual upticks in appropriations left 5,000 local organizations constantly lagging in their ability to feed seniors.
From 2001 to 2019, funding for the Older Americans Act rose an average of 1.1 percent annually — a 22 percent increase over almost two decades, according to an analysis by the AARP Public Policy Institute. But adjusted for inflation, the funding for nutrition services actually fell 8 percent. State and local matching funds, foundation grants and private donations helped keep kitchens open and drivers delivering, but many programs still could not bridge their budget gaps.
food insecure,” meaning they had limited or uncertain access to adequate food.
And that shortfall was before the pandemic. Once programs hastily closed congregant settings last spring, a Meals on Wheels America survey found that nearly 80 percent of the programs reported that new requests for home-delivered meals had at least doubled; waiting lists grew by 26 percent.
Along with money, the Covid relief legislation gave these local programs needed flexibility. Normally, to qualify for Meals on Wheels, homebound clients must require assistance with activities of daily living. The emergency appropriations allowed administrators to serve less frail seniors who were following stay-at-home orders, and to transfer money freely from congregant centers to home delivery.
Even so, the increased caseloads, with people who had never applied before seeking meals, left some administrators facing dire decisions.
In Northern Arizona, about 800 clients were receiving home-delivered meals in February 2020. By June, that number had ballooned to 1,265, including new applicants as well as those who had previously eaten at the program’s 18 now-shuttered senior centers. Clients were receiving 14 meals each week.
By summer, despite federal relief funds, “I was out of money,” Ms. Beals-Luedtka said. She faced the grim task of telling 342 seniors, who had been added to the rolls for three emergency months, that she had to remove them. “People were crying on the phone,” she recalled. “I literally had a man say he was going to commit suicide.” (She reinstated him.) Even those who remained started receiving five meals a week instead of 14.
diminish loneliness and help keep seniors out of expensive nursing homes. They also may help reduce falls, although those findings were based on a small sample and did not achieve statistical significance.
Interestingly, Dr. Thomas’s research found daily meal deliveries had greater effects than weekly or twice-monthly drop-offs of frozen meals, a practice many local organizations have adopted to save money.
Frail or forgetful clients may have trouble storing, preparing and remembering to eat frozen meals. But the primary reason daily deliveries pay off, her study shows, is the regular chats with drivers.
“They build relationships with their clients,” Dr. Thomas said. “They might come back later to fix a rickety handrail. If they’re worried about a client’s health, they let the program know. The drivers are often the only people they see all day, so these relationships are very important.”
a prepandemic evaluation found.
So while program administrators relish a rare opportunity to expand their reach, they worry that if Congress doesn’t sustain this higher level of appropriations, the relief money will be spent and waiting lists will reappear.
“There’s going to be a cliff,” Ms. Beals-Luedtka said. “What’s going to happen next time? I don’t want to have to call people and say, ‘We’re done with you now.’ These are our grandparents.”