Peddling Healthful Street Food To Eco-Urbanites: Will It Fly?
Monday, March 10, 2008
Like lots of business plans, the one for a bug-like contraption offering healthful food on the streets of Washington bubbled up from some buddies kicking ideas back and forth.
As they mulled their quest for selling the perfect pizza slice on the streets of Washington, Gabe Klein, who had worked for Zipcar, the by-the-hour car rental company, began to think about other possibilities. Pizza soon evolved into health food, and On the Fly was born.
"People are used to a much higher quality street food experience than you can get in D.C.," said the Connecticut native. "We looked at that need and said that is something we can fill."
Klein, 37, and two friends founded On the Fly, offering locally produced, good-for-you food in both mobile and bricks-and-mortar cafes -- "smartkarts" and "smartkafes" -- that are showing up in downtown Washington.
This is not your father's hot dog stand.
On the Fly says its target audience is the earth-loving, health-conscious, exercising, frugal-but-affluent urbanite who lives or works in downtown Washington.
Starting at a 2,500-square-foot central kitchen on Capitol Hill, On the Fly creates a menu ranging from homemade hummus to a four-soy salad with tofu and shiitake mushrooms. The macaroni and cheese includes whole wheat pasta and low-fat smoked gouda. You can get organic smoothies and fresh-cut pineapple, but there's no sugary corn syrup in the house.
They also sell specialties from local restaurants, such as a chicken barbecue sandwich from Rocklands on Wisconsin Avenue or a veggie empanada from Julia's Empanadas in Adams Morgan. The bread is whole grain, but good luck finding mayonnaise or butter to smear on it.
"It's Whole Foods meets 7-Eleven," said On the Fly finance chief Michel Heitstuman, 48, an engineer who once worked for IBM and AOL.
On the Fly hasn't arrived without controversy.
D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) voted to change the city's licensing laws to allow On the Fly and similar businesses to operate on the streets, which angered some vendors already doing business.
"I wanted to allow more creative vending opportunities," Graham said.