WASHINGTON — At 11:45 a.m. outside the Farragut West Metro stop on a sunny Friday morning, a silver car pulls up to the corner. The driver lightly honks the horn and motions for me to get in the car.
I jump in to see Leith Jaber and Faisal Orainan mapping out their destination when Jaber’s phone chimes.
“We got an order; we’re going to Maryland Avenue,” Jaber tells Orainan, who is driving the car.
After several minutes spent navigating downtown gridlock and construction, we reach our destination. Jaber hops out of the car, grabs a to-go container filled with food from the back seat and heads toward the office building.
“We made that one in 11 minutes,” he says when he gets back to the car. His phone dings again; Jaber and Orainan reset their GPS and race off to the next location.
It’s hard to find a hot, nutritious lunch in D.C. for under $10, let alone one that’s made from scratch and delivered free of charge in 20 minutes or less, but the startup MunchQuick is making it possible.
Every day, the Alexandria-based company features two meals and a small plate on its website — dishes such as meat lasagna, tofu noodle salad, beef stroganoff and Asian potato dumplings — all of which are made fresh and priced between $3 and $6. There is usually one sweet treat on the site, as well such as the popular M&M mint cookie bar.
MunchQuick’s lunches are made from scratch and sell for $6. The menu varies each day. (Screenshot/MunchQuick website)
In the morning and throughout lunchtime, customers can place orders on the MunchQuick website, and between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., Chief Operating Officer Jaber, chef Orainan and Chief Executive Officer Asad Yusupov deliver the lunches to customers in zip codes 20004, 20005, 20006, 20036 and 20062.
“We bend [traffic] rules a little bit, but we do pretty well,” says Jaber on the company’s promise to deliver in less than 20 minutes.
The appeal of MunchQuick, Jaber says, comes from being able to order a hot, healthy, relatively inexpensive meal without wasting time outside the office.
“In D.C., you can’t buy anything for less than $15,” Jaber says. “Burger King and McDonald’s — yeah, they’re meals, but we can provide something for you that’s healthier and cheaper. We don’t want people to think that healthy is always expensive; that tends to be the misconception.”
MunchQuick launched its operation on June 30 thanks to small loans from friends and family, and it has quickly found a steady stream of customers ever since. Jaber says the company makes about 100 lunches every morning at a commercial kitchen in Alexandria.
A weekly menu is set every Sunday by MunchQuick Chief Culinary Officer Muslima Yusupova, and the meals are made from scratch beginning at 7 a.m.
MunchQuick aims to have a vegetarian option on its menu everyday, such as these Asian potato dumplings, which sell for $3 for 6. (Screenshot/MunchQuick website)
Around 10 a.m., the MunchQuick crew divides the meals into two cars and packs them into incubators to keep the food warm. They head into the city and split up to cover different areas of downtown D.C., where they wait for orders to come in.
“What’s good about this area is that people are always so open to trying new stuff — new flavors, new experiences, new restaurants, new startups; it’s very inviting,” Orainan says.
They sometimes sell out, Jaber says. On the day of my ride-along, only two chicken casseroles and a few vegetarian potato dishes remained in Jaber’s car at 12:15 p.m. — hardly the height of lunchtime. And all of the cookies were gone.
Jaber says the company is hoping to expand to meet its demand, but plans to do so slowly and mindfully; it has its eye on popular D.C. neighborhoods and college campuses.
“Our main focus right now is customer service — to gain that customer support, to gain that customer loyalty,” Jaber says. “We’re praying that, one day, we can hopefully maintain all of D.C.”
MunchQuick currently has an 89 percent return rate, based on three orders or more, Jaber says. In addition to its law-office and government-employee customers, building security guards and parking garage attendants wait for the MunchQuick crew to come by daily with their hot lunches.
When asked how they can keep costs lower than most of their niche lunchtime competitors, such as food trucks, Jaber says the key is buying and cooking in bulk.
A recent MunchQuick lunch menu option: A summer berry avocado salad. (Courtesy MunchQuick)
“We wouldn’t make the price that low if we didn’t know we’re going to at least be making something back from it,” says Jaber, a recent American University graduate. But he emphasizes that nothing is wasted. Meals that aren’t sold are dropped off at Martha’s Table, a nonprofit organization in the District.
“We don’t think it’s necessary for us to throw away any food at all. We try to use everything up, and what we don’t use, we’d rather give away than dispose of it,” Jaber says.
If and when MunchQuick expands, so will its delivery fleet, and the company is considering electrical bikes as a mode of transportation. MunchQuick is also in the final stages of developing its app, on which customers can order lunch and track their driver to see when their food will be delivered.
As the summer winds down and the weather cools, the MunchQuick team expects nothing but more business — especially on chilly afternoons and rainy days when people are less likely to leave the office to venture outside for a meal.
“We used to hate rainy days and now we’re like,