Vince Howard opened Tessa Delicatessen at 5724 East Colfax Avenue last November, and had to quickly change gears just a few months later because of the coronavirus pandemic. The chef was no stranger to running restaurants, having operated a similar deli in Los Angeles before moving to Denver, but this was a different kind of change.
As at every other restaurant in town, to-go orders were the only way to do business from March 17 to May 27, when in-house dining was off limits. But Howard's sandwiches and other menu offerings had already earned a good reputation in the neighborhood, so customers continued to support the deli through takeout orders as well as some delivery. "There's a lot of cool goodwill and great energy coming from our neighbors," he says.
But as of about a week ago, Tessa has been going without delivery, at least for the time being, since Howard is fed up with the bad attitudes and behavior of third-party delivery drivers. "With these delivery guys, it's something new every day," the deli owner states. "I don't want to be negative, but I'm a little pissed off."
Howard had been using Grubhub as his primary delivery service, and he explains that the company had provided his restaurant with a tablet to track delivery orders that came in through Tessa Deli's listing on the Grubhub website. "They hit you with 30 percent up front," he notes, "and a check only comes monthly, so they're hanging on to your money."
While the service fee was high, Howard says that the money wasn't the real issue, since he was only taking about six orders a day for delivery. The main problem was with the drivers: They'd often show up within minutes of an order being placed and would become impatient if the food wasn't ready, even though they were there far earlier than either the customer or the kitchen were expecting. Sometimes, Howard adds, drivers would demand that the food be made immediately — ahead of other orders that had been placed earlier. And if that didn't happen, they'd just leave, so that the delivery customer would have to cancel the order or come in to pick up their food.
"I never mentioned it before [to Grubhub], because I thought that I needed them, but it turns out that I don't," Howard says.
But he finally put in a complaint after having to argue with drivers who weren't wearing masks in his restaurant. The last straw came when he told a driver to put on a mask and the driver flew off the handle, calling Howard names and storming out. Howard took to Instagram to let his customers know they'd need to start calling in orders and be patient, since the store only has one phone line. "We pride ourselves in having the cleanest space possible and welcome you to experience our product safely," the deli owner wrote on Instagram. "The last bad driver I had told me I 'sucked &$@)$' and then ripped us on Google. I am watching and I am concerned for who we are as people if we accept this type of behavior. I won’t stand for it even if I lose a few $."
Howard says that "after getting a bad review, I'm fighting back. But fighting back in the restaurant business makes you look like a jerk. I didn't get to vet this guy; I didn't hire him."
After the incident, Howard called Grubhub, but "they just didn't want to hear about it," he says, and four days after his complaint, he still hadn't heard back from the company with a resolution.
His decision to sever ties with Grubhub forced him to look into other companies that offer restaurants online-ordering platforms, and Howard has been impressed with Square, which he says builds relationships with restaurants and delivery drivers to ensure more open lines of communication and accountability.
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"I don't need to get rich," Howard concludes, "I just need to make 100 sandwiches a day. If I can do that, I can stay afloat."
Grubhub would not comment on how it handles driver discipline or on its response times to complaints without knowing the specifics of the restaurant or the incident, but a spokesperson did provide this statement:
Our priority is the health and safety of our community – drivers, restaurants and diners. We’ve made every effort to ensure drivers are as safe as possible on the road, and we provided drivers with guidance from the CDC to practice good hygiene and follow local rules and regulations when interacting with diners and restaurants. Drivers are required to wear a mask while making deliveries and have access to free PPE from Grubhub, including masks and hand sanitizer.
We always want for restaurants to have the best experience possible, and while the vast majority of our orders are completed without incident or complaint, we appreciate hearing feedback and work hard to make it right. If we receive a complaint about a driver not wearing a mask or engaging in misconduct of any kind, we have an internal process that includes a prompt investigation and could result in the driver’s contract being terminated with us. We also give restaurants the option to specify that a certain driver should no longer be able to pick up from their restaurant.
Tessa Delicatessen is currently open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Call 720-746-9138 for pick-up orders, and keep an eye out on the Tessa Delicatessen Instagram page for pop-up dinners and other specials coming up.