GrubHub: A Badass Chicago Company

As Chicagoans we know we don’t have anything to prove. We’re a badass city. We’ve inspired songs, musicals, literature, and pizza. An SNL character mocks our accent. LA can keep their smog, and New York can keep their smug. We know we have it all, but it’s still nice to brag when our city produces one more fabulous thing. And if that idea finds it way through the haze of LA or even makes a New Yorker smile, well, even better.

Necessity is the mother of invention, the saying goes. Few things are more necessary, more primal, than food. And Mike Evans was hungry. Commuting home on the Sheridan bus, stomach growling, he needed food. Tired of ordering from the same restaurants, he longed for a way to find all the restaurants that would deliver to him and try some new grub.

Eschewing his animal instincts in favor of innovation, Mike ended up not eating that night. Instead, he wrote the website that would eventually become GrubHub.com.

Mike, a software developer, was working with his friend Matt Maloney at the time. Matt, also weary of his delivery options, became GrubHub’s co-founder. The two scrawled a business plan on a bar napkin and the company was founded in 2004. On GrubHub, users type in their address and all of the restaurants that deliver to that address are displayed. Restaurants signed up as GrubHub clients offer online ordering, easy payment by cash, credit card, or PayPal, and some restaurants offer special coupons and specials for GrubHub users. Even if a restaurant in your area is not a GrubHub client, chances are GrubHub has a copy of their menu scanned into the system, and provides you with the restaurant’s direct number.

The past six years have been good to Mike and Matt. They’ve come from a two-man show to having over a hundred employees to date, in an office that is bursting at the seams. The largest conference room is now filled with desks for sales reps. Mike and Matt moved their desks into the break room so the tech wizards behind the site could expand their workspace. Even the bike room, provided for cycling employees, has two chairs and a small side table shoved into it. On the lookout for more space, the growing pains are a means to an end that is looking sweeter by the day.

In November of 2010, GrubHub closed $11 million in venture capital, only to be followed by another round in March of 2011, this time pulling in $20 million. A recent partnership with OLO Online Ordering will bring even more restaurants onboard, and will officially make GrubHub the largest provider of online food ordering in the United States. The company has doubled in size every year, and predicts they will be in 26 cities and employ over 200 people by the start of 2012.

But becoming major players in local and national tech business hasn’t gone to anyone’s head. Mike and Matt are still readily available to employees, with Mike even working the phones in Customer Service during the February blizzard. There are regular company lunches ordered in, and cooking contests among employees. A box of crayons sits in one of the conference rooms, a distraction for when Matt’s young daughter pays a visit to the office. And though on hiatus due to space issues, the break room is referred to as The Rock Band room — yes, this company takes its video games very seriously. Account managers brag to marketing about their superior ping pong skills, and a major company concern was finding a remote place for the noisy foosball table.

Mike and Matt have taken GrubHub to the national level, but remain committed to their headquarters in Chicago with no plans to flee to one of the coasts as they grow. An energetic and innovative addition to the Chicago start-up and business community, GrubHub also proudly claims that around 90% of the restaurants on the site are independents. The company distributed $85 million to its restaurants last year, and the impact this has for struggling mom-and-pop operations is huge.

GrubHub is free to the consumer and sort of makes you feel like you have a genie in a bottle. For example, it’s after midnight and I’m writing in my jammies. Suddenly, the craving for sushi hits me. In ye olde days, I’d probably just Google Image search some rolls and slobber until I fell asleep. But GrubHub tells me two different restaurants deliver sushi to me, until 4am. See? Magic.

Rub the lamp yourself and make your wish. Grubhub will be a win for your dinner and yet another a win for Chicago.



* Full disclosure (and a bit of bragging): Mary-Margaret is a proud GrubHub employee. She loves that she gets to help satisfy delivery lovers across the country every day.

Mary-Margaret McSweene

About Mary-Margaret McSweene

Mary-Margaret McSweene makes her home in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago with the love of her life, a pit bull/black lab mix, named Jake. Buying old things that no longer function but offer extreme aesthetic pleasure is her vice; typewriters and rotary phones are favorites. Mary-Margaret also believes that anything in life can be articulated by a Tom Petty song.

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