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Catering site Phoodeez debuts in Boston, seeking to simplify the task of feeding big groups

Posted by Scott Kirsner  August 29, 2012 08:52 AM

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At club meetings and conferences on the MIT campus, Sal Lupoli and Christine Marcus kept seeing the same burritos and pizzas get ordered to feed groups of students. And afterward, they kept seeing major amounts of left-overs get given away or tossed.

"What we noticed is that the person arranging food for a meeting usually had a collection of menus, they ordered from the same few places that they knew they could rely on, and they never knew how much to order so they usually over-spent," says Marcus, a former U.S. Department of Energy official who recently earned her MBA at MIT's Sloan School of Management. Lupoli adds, "And there are no Yelp reviews for catering that tell you about the food or about the service, like whether it'll show up on time." Lupoli, also a newly-minted MBA, is the co-founder of Sal's Pizza and Salvatore's Italian Restaurants, with about 50 locations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. (Lupoli is pictured below.)

sal2-184x300.jpegEarlier this year, they began testing their website Phoodeez with MIT users. It's intended to streamline the process of ordering food for groups, and help "local restaurants that have great food attract more business in catering, which is very lucrative," in Lupoli's words. (Yes, his pizza shops and higher-end Italian restaurants are featured on the site, along with several other suppliers.) This week, Phoodeez is launching a redesigned site and targeting off-campus customers in the broader Boston area.

Restaurants participating in the site so far include Guru the Caterer, Spice and Rice, and Aceituna. Every item listed, liked the "good morning breakfast" pictured above, from the Danish Pastry House, explains how many people it feeds. Prices are the same as if you'd ordered directly from the restaurant, Marcus says, but Phoodeez takes a small referral fee off the total amount.

The new site will compete against other online food-ordering businesses like Seamless and Foodler. Marcus says they are considering a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for marketing and promotion. But so far, she says, "we are doing it the very old-fashioned way, having raised the initial funds from friends and family, as well as from revenue."

The company has been using office space at MIT's Beehive Cooperative and Harvard's Innovation Lab.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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