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Waffle House Teams Up With “Uber for Packages”

How can FedEx compete against bacon and pancakes?

Photo by rpavich via Flickr

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported on a new partnership between Waffle House and delivery startup Roadie, in which the ubiquitous grit-slinging chain will offer up their roster of more than 1,700 locations as pickup and drop-off points for packages. Inspired by the success of sharing-economy heavies Uber and Airb, the Roadie app will compete with parcel services like FedEx and UPS, connecting people who need things delivered with citizen drivers willing to deliver them for a small fee. According to WSJ:

Roadie founder Marc Gorlin came up with the idea about a year ago for the service after he had to get tiles quickly transported from Birmingham, Ala., to his Florida condo, which was under repair. He realized there was likely somebody already driving that route who might be willing to drop off the tiles for $20.

“That was the idea for Roadie—basically utilizing all these cars that are already going somewhere,” Mr. Gorlin added.

The Waffle House Empire stretches from the shores of the briny Atlantic to the arid desertscape of Arizona, from as far south as the swampy swamps of Florida to the frigid, northern wasteland known as Ohio. In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) already uses something called “The Waffle House Index” as an informal indicator of a given storm’s destructive power. “If you get there and the Waffle House is closed,” FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate once said, “That’s really bad. That’s where you go to work.”

Waffle House eats. Photo by Sam Howzit via Flickr

It only makes sense then, with this kind of infrastructure at the ready, Waffle House would eventually morph into a kind of modern-day Thurn-und-Taxis. Wherever Roadie drivers are actually headed when they accept a delivery job, it’s a pretty good bet there will be a Waffle House somewhere along the way. The restaurants act as a (relatively) safe, public place where drivers can meet with senders and recipients, and if they’re feeling hungry, scarf down a plate of warm diner chum while they’re at it. “We’re just bacon and eggs over here,” Waffle House head Walt Ehmer told the WSJ. “I’ve been amazed with the explosion of Uber and Airbnb and other technology that kind of enables people to get together and conduct business together. ”

So far, the partnership with the Atlanta-based delivery service is limited to the Southeast, and though Roadie has raised over $10 million in funding, like many nascent bubble-era newbies, its shelf life and feasibility are up in the air. Critics point to possible legal issues around transporting illicit goods and relatively low delivery fees that seem unlikely to attract many drivers. But Juanchella Kemp, an Uber and Lyft driver, tells the WSJ that she’s found the app useful, since she finds herself on the road a lot of the time, anyway. “I wouldn’t go out of my way,” said Kemp, “It’s just advantageous when I’m already going that way to make a little pocket change.”

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