Over the past year, I’ve tried valiantly to keep the dream of daily gourmet desk lunches alive. Apparently, however, this city’s epicureans have all died or moved away. You see, my beloved artisanal lunchmaker Maple—the popular food delivery service backed by superstar chef David Chang—announced it’s shutting down after just two years.
In a statement posted to the company’s website yesterday, founders Caleb Merkl and Akshay Navle eulogized my beloved Maple. “We’re writing to let you know that as of today Maple will be ceasing operations in New York,” the app’s only market. “It became clear that we needed to ... look for a partner with scale—one that would allow us to leverage all that we had built across a broader platform,” they wrote, adding that some members of the team will join Deliveroo, a heavily funded European food delivery startup.
Those greedy bastards. It’s always about the platform, isn’t it?
Maple launched back in 2015 as an alternative to shitty proletarian food services like Seamless and UberEats. To differentiate itself, it focused on delivering special chef-designed meals that were freshly prepared and delivered to offices around Manhattan. The menu featured irrationally lavish lunch items, like port-glazed roasted lamb and garlic herb beef, all for about $15 including tip and delivery. It was a pretty solid deal—especially for anyone that wants to act bougie everyday at noon. I was hooked.
Maple was the only constant in my life in the past year. While my coworkers were out taking “real” lunch breaks, I was busy toiling away at my desk, eating Sesame Crusted Arctic Char and Truffle Grilled Cheese like a real company man. I lived for the sides: fresh hummus and chips, charred broccoli, orzo and olive salad. These dishes gave me life and fueled my overworked brain in moments of immense stress. If only for a few brief moments, I felt like a king—one from a very poor nation that no one cares about.
Of course, I probably should have seen the shutdown coming months ago, when Maple got rid of the free “Sugar Shack” cookie—designed by award-winning pastry chef Christina Tosi—that came with every meal. I used to stockpile my cookies throughout the week, then dole them out on Friday like Oprah Winfrey. You get a cookie! You get a cookie! I made a lot of friends this way. But then the cookies stopped coming—and I stopped making new friends.
As much as I hate to admit it, it’s hard to blame Maple for axing the free cookies. In December, Recode reported on leaked documents that showed Maple lost money on every meal in 2015. The documents also showed that by March 2016, the company was only making a profit of 30 cents per meal. The company reportedly projected a $16 million operating loss on $40 million revenue. I’m not mathematician, but that sounds like bad business. (Not to mention that according to some reports, Maple tried to treat its couriers pretty well, which often runs counter to making money.)
It seemingly worked out for everyone, for a time. But it couldn’t last—that’s not the way these things work, and especially not in the tech industry. Ultimately, for these startups to work, someone has to get screwed. And in the end, it was the company itself. (David Chang is no stranger to tough times, either; other projects like Momofuku Nishi and Lucky Peach magazine have either experienced troubled launches or failed spectacularly.)
Sadly, this is just the latest example of the fleeting quality of apps and other kinds of technology. They can so easily burrow into our lives, becoming part of the fabric of our daily routines, only to disappear out of nowhere. It’s almost like losing a friend. Maple was something I used ever day for a year. It was something I got used to, something I looked forward to—and now it’s gone forever.
Now, I have the harsh reality of adjusting to my old life, one without free cookies or black truffle lunches. The only answer to this tragedy, I suppose, is for me to download one of the other bajillion restaurant apps out there. See you in line at Hale & Hearty.