Two years ago, Dylan Gans’ interest was piqued after hearing about a new food delivery startup at an event on campus. He was hooked on the idea of getting bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches on a New York bagel delivered to his Syracuse University dorm room.
After he graduates next month, Gans will work full time in New York City to help bring Good Uncle, a Syracuse-born delivery service, to campuses along the East Coast.
Good Uncle started as a delivery-only kitchen in 2016. Now, the company is wrapping up its first year serving SU students through campus meal plans. Good Uncle also has a presence on the University of Maryland and University of Delaware campuses and will expand this fall after finding success in central New York.
The company will expand to about 15 campuses along the East Coast, including possible launches at George Washington University, Pennsylvania State University, Villanova University and American University. The goal is to open at 50 to 100 campuses in 2019, said Wiley Cerilli, CEO and co-founder of Good Uncle.
“Syracuse really took off and continues to grow, and we’re really fortunate for that,” he added.
The Good Uncle story
Since its launch, Good Uncle has found success on a college campus. Cerilli said students were drawn to the company’s free delivery and lack of a delivery minimum, as well as its late closing hours. Good Uncle is open until 3 a.m. Thursday through Sunday and until midnight the rest of the week.
Many students were interested in either complementing an existing meal plan or replacing theirs completely with a Good Uncle setup. In addition to one-time deliveries, Good Uncle offers semester-long meal plans. The company will cap the number of meal plans offered at SU in the fall at 750 — a 150-student increase from this semester. SU students can reserve their meal plan spot online.
Five meals per week on a Good Uncle meal plan is nearly half the cost of five meals a week on an SU meal plan, Cerilli said. He added that price differences vary depending on the plan, but students on a Good Uncle meal plan can expect to save 30 to 50 percent.
“(Dining halls) typically charge a very large amount for food that is pretty subpar, and students don’t even eat all those meals,” Cerilli said.
For Gans, eating in the dining hall was exciting as a freshman, but his taste changed as he started to miss home-cooked meals. The bagel sandwiches from Ess-a-Bagel, one of Good Uncle’s restaurant partners, reminds him of home in New Jersey.
“So many of these food companies think that college kids just want the same Jimmy John’s sandwich, but really our tastes are a little more advanced than that,” he said.
Good Uncle features recipes from popular restaurants in New York City, including Ess-a-Bagel, No. 7 Sub, Joe’s Pizza and Croxley’s. One of the most popular menu items is chicken tenders from Sticky’s Finger Joint.
As a delivery-only restaurant, Good Uncle saves money on rent and front-of-house costs such as waitstaff and furnishings, which Cerilli said allows them to invest in the food itself.
“We’re going to bring the dining experience to you,” Cerilli said. “We can invest in our recipes and our chefs … so we can essentially serve better food.”
Nicole Salpini, a freshman management and finance major, purchased the Good Uncle meal plan to accommodate her gluten-free diet. As a first-year student with celiac disease, Salpini had a difficult time eating in the dining hall her first semester. Her favorite Good Uncle menu items are the salads and protein bowls.
Greg Mytelka, a sophomore theater management major, joined the Good Uncle meal plan last fall because there are no dining halls near the Syracuse Stage/SU Drama Theater Complex, which is where he spends a lot of his time. Mytelka’s favorite menu items are the veggie burger and breakfast burrito.
Mytelka won’t be purchasing the meal plan next semester, though, because he’ll have access to a kitchen in off-campus housing. He added that he’d like to see dishes added more frequently to the menu and adjusted prices.
“I wish (Good Uncle’s) prices were lower,” Mytelka said. “I think sometimes for the quality of food, the price doesn’t match that.”
Inside the kitchen
This fall, “Iron Chef America” contestant Erik Battes is working with Good Uncle as the executive vice president of culinary to bring a line of healthier meals to the menu. Good Uncle has observed from looking closely at customer data that SU students generally seek healthier items compared to other campuses, Gans said.
At the Good Uncle kitchen on South Crouse Avenue, culinary production manager Akiva Stewart works to ensure every meal is representative of the company’s standards. She said deciding to work here was the “best decision.” Having worked in the restaurant business for more than 20 years, Stewart said Good Uncle is family-focused and open to new ideas from their employees — something she hadn’t experienced at her previous jobs.
“I really stand by the food,” Stewart said. “Hopefully I’ll be a part of the long haul and help (Good Uncle) move forward and expand.”