Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.
When Na’ama Moran’s company launched an app for restaurants that streamlines the ordering and delivery of wholesale supplies, it was 2015 — well before anyone knew what was on the 2020 horizon. The goal, Moran said, is and always has been “to help restaurants thrive.”
Then came the novel coronavirus, which she calls “the worst, most cataclysmic thing to happen in the history of restaurants.”
With many restaurants relying on government money, and those doing delivery seeing 20 to 30 percent of revenue going to third-party services, most places are barely getting by, she said.
“Most of our independent restaurants are owned by real hustlers and either owned or staffed by immigrants,” she said. “They provide something that enriches our lives as a community. I’m dreading the day that all we have is Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Cheesecake Factory.”
Moran is CEO and co-founder of Cheetah, which distributes wholesale supplies to independent restaurants, cafés, caterers and food trucks in the Bay Area, according to its website. While its app was created to centralize and simplify the supply chain, Cheetah’s mission now includes a more serious imperative: helping restaurants survive the pandemic.
To bring more attention to the personal plight of Bay Area chefs, Cheetah has produced a series of short documentaries called “Too Small to Fail” featuring testimonials by local chefs about how devastating this period has been for their restaurants and the industry.
Moran, 41, grew up in a farming community on Kfar Monash, Israel, a moshav of about 75 families near Netanya. Her father inherited his family farm, where he grew citrus and pecans. He also raised turkeys, and later owned and managed a bakery.
At an early age, Moran witnessed her father dealing with the stress of owning a small business; he died of a heart attack at 52. “I’m sure that some of it can be attributed to all the stress he had in his life,” she said.
In her 20s Moran lived for a time in Italy doing an “agriturismo,” or farm stay, and then began her studies at Tel Aviv University, later transferring to Cornell University. In 2007 she moved to Silicon Valley and helped found several startups before co-founding Cheetah. She lives with her partner and daughter in San Francisco, where the company is based.
The app was developed by a team representing the food industry, supply-chain experts, engineers and others, who came up with a system that gave busy chefs a central place to order their daily ingredients, see their inventory and track their deliveries.
Before, “there wasn’t one place they could search for inventory and see prices. Everything was very analog. You’d see chefs in the middle of a shift or later on at night, having to call each one of their vendors, and they’d be sending texts or faxes,” Moran said.
The company grew out of “my interest in small-business owners and what they mean for the economy and what they mean for diversity and the importance of the food supply chain,” she said.
Since its founding, Cheetah has become the fifth-largest food distributor in the Bay Area, Moran said, delivering supplies to 10 percent of the region’s restaurants. It recently had begun operating in several other cities, “and then the sky fell on our heads,” she said. “Overnight we lost more than 80 percent of our sales.”
With so much perishable food in stock, the Cheetah team quickly pivoted to the consumer market, where people were suddenly panic-buying and avoiding large supermarkets. Many of the customers like to buy in bulk, picking up their orders at designated sites from refrigerated trucks and sharing the bounty with other family members or cooperative households. Cheetah had record months in March and April.
While the business has seen steady growth on the consumer side, Cheetah also has partnered with local restaurants to sell their packaged and prepared meals on the platform.
Before Covid, city residents on average were eating out for at least one meal a day nationwide. U.S. restaurant sales were $900 billion annually while grocery sales were $700 billion, according to Moran.
While no one can predict the future, she said at least for the short term, the restaurant industry will have to continue coming up with creative ways to weather the storm. “It can’t just be delivering chicken from point A to point B at the best price possible,” Moran said. “To survive, restaurants will have to evolve.”
She sees her company playing a role by “giving restaurants new ideas for how to reinvent themselves,” adding, “Our mission has never been more urgent.”