Five years of evangelizing to thousands of the city’s downtown office workers to eschew the chip truck for fresh soups, salads, and sandwiches has paid off. After launching LUNCH in 2011, Tim Van Dyke, an independent, eco-conscious entrepreneur, now boasts five stand-alone restaurants and food-court locations on both sides of the river and runs a busy catering operation.
LUNCH has also just won the bid to set up the cafeteria in the Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards, the brand-new entrepreneurial hub that’s set to launch towards the end of the year. Van Dyke sat down with City Bites Insider to talk about his ambitious plans, the future of fresh food, and how he hopes the hub of innovators will turn his tech-ideas for LUNCH into reality.
What exactly does it mean that you’ve got the gig at the Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards?
Well, it means that LUNCH will be operating a full cafeteria at this innovation and technology hub, which is really exciting. It’s a gorgeous space and the building is already pretty much fully booked — the various companies and academic programs that are moving in will start announcing their participation this fall.
Give us the basics of what LUNCH will serve.
There will be 250-300 people working at the Innovation Centre, with lots of people stopping by for meetings with the startups. With that in mind, we plan to offer a really great menu of homemade sandwiches, soups, salads, and a few hot options. These are all prepared daily. We’re also excited to work with local partners like Equator coffee, Harvey & Vern’s soda, Buchipop. We’ll get beer on tap, including Tooth & Nail, which is one of my favourites.
And LUNCH itself. Will it look like a standard cafeteria?
No! We’re working with 30-foot ceilings, original brick walls, and views into an orchard that will be planted in the back of the Centre. I’ve been working with MCL [Hospitality Ltd.] on the design and equipment. It’s going to be great.
Tech types tend to work a lot of overtime. Will you be open 24 hours?
No, but we’ll definitely be launching a vending machine, which will serve fresh sandwiches, drinks, and good snacks when the cafeteria is closed. We’re working on that right now — a sexier vending machine that takes things up a notch. We restock all the time, so people will be able to get fresh and healthy food at any hour. Equator’s also working on a 24-hour coffee vending machine so that will be covered, too!
That sounds like an idea worthy of expansion.
We’d definitely like to expand the vending machine concept once we have it perfected. Imagine if you could get fresh sandwiches and snacks at vending machines at hospitals, fitness centres, and big offices. A lot of people know LUNCH from our storefronts and food-court locations or maybe we’ve catered an event they’ve been at. But vending machines with fresh food would be a whole new market.
You’re set up in an innovation hub. Does that mean LUNCH gets to innovate?
That’s the most exciting thing for me! I feel like LUNCH will be a small part of a bigger thing. I’ve got a grocery list of ideas that I plan to run by the people working here — loyalty programs, new ordering systems, new technologies. We’ll be able to innovate at LUNCH and work on ideas with the people working here. They will have the skills to turn our ideas into reality.
So you’ll be serving up great food and using the Centre’s workforce as both innovators and guinea pigs for LUNCH?
I think we’ll be able have a lot of fun and learn a lot. The great thing about technology entrepreneurs is that they’re willing to be a bit forgiving when you’re testing new systems and ideas.
When can we check you out?
Right now it looks like we’ll start setting up in mid-October, so the plan is to be up and running in late November or early December. I can’t wait.