David Cabello knew from a young age he wanted to own a business. It’s a lesson he learned from entrepreneurial avenues open to kids: shoveling snow, cutting grass, selling packs of gum to fellow students.
He got a job selling products for the national marketing company Amway. With some guidance from Philadelphia Futures’ College Connection Program, he started business school at Shippensburg University but dropped out in his third semester.
The Bristol native entered into the gig economy in January 2017, cycling through various third-party food-delivery services — Postmates, UberEats, Caviar — biking 50 to 75 miles on busy days.
When he earned $1,100 in less than two days, it occurred to him: “If I can make this much money delivering food on a bike, how much can I make if I own my own company?” And what if his delivery service focused on Black-owned businesses, helping to circulate money in his community?
“Once I thought of the idea, I got goose bumps,” Cabello, 25, says. He went home and started researching delivery services. None were Black-owned. “I said, ‘I’m going to be the first one,’ and that’s exactly what I did.”
That’s the origin story of Black and Mobile (tagline: “The culture delivered”), but Cabello’s journey from lightbulb-moment to first tastes of success took time. He had to figure out how to execute his dream — and how to sell people on it. He had to learn about customers and clients, to think outside of the perspective of a driver.
“Food delivery can only teach me so much,” he says. “It’s really about going out there and doing it.”
He designed a website, approached restaurants, and finally launched the business in February 2019, almost two years after he came up with the idea.
Cabello’s first clients were Tasteful Sensations in Tioga, Sid Booker’s on North Broad, and Swampoodle’s Country Cookin, owned by Saudia Shuler, who is well-known for her seafood salad and candied yams. Though Shuler has since stopped working with Black and Mobile, last April she gave the company some love on her Instagram account (300,000-plus followers strong). Other restaurants started signing up, encouraged by her endorsement.
Cabello grew the business, adding clients and making deliveries (which he still does). After he got hit by a car last July, he halted operations for a few months and decided to reorganize and raise capital via Kickstarter. Though it fell far short of its $100,000 goal, he says the fund-raiser generated local and national press that greatly boosted his social media following — a game-changing asset for new businesses.
He did about $25,000 in sales in 2019, but momentum was growing. In the first two months of 2020, before the coronavirus made food delivery essential, the fledgling company saw $50,000 in sales, a rate that has grown exponentially post-pandemic. “The orders have been nonstop,” Cabello says.
He’s funneling profits back into the business, which expanded to Detroit in March and Atlanta in May. During a three-city hiring spree, he doubled the number of drivers in Philadelphia from around 50 to 100 to deliver food from 45 restaurants from Upper Darby to Olney and everywhere in between. He also plans to a launch a new app — designed by the Black-owned Philadelphia firm Jumpbutton Studio — in July to improve the ordering experience for both customers and clients.
Like other third-party delivery companies, Black and Mobile charges restaurants a 20% fee for its services, but owners can set higher prices on its interface versus in-house rates. As delivery has grown more crucial to restaurants during the pandemic, that offers owners some much-needed flexibility.
Take Darlene Jones, who owns Star Fusion restaurant, Blu Diamond Juicery, and the newly opened Star Fusion Express, all in West Philly. Before COVID-19, half of Star Fusion’s business was dine in, and the rest was split between takeout and delivery. With dine in service eliminated, she relies on third-party delivery providers for 50% of her business — but that cuts into already-slim profit margins.
“I have a food cost that’s 25%, and my employee cost is 35%,” she says. Third-party delivery partners tend to take 20% — sometimes as much as 30% — from food orders. “I’m wiped out almost,” Jones says, suggesting more delivery partners should allow restaurants to raise prices on third-party sites. “And then we all win.”
Some of Black and Mobile’s mainstream competitors do let restaurants adjust pricing, but the start-up’s true edge comes from its rising-tide-lifts-all-boats mission. It’s a unique value proposition, and remains so as some services, including UberEats and Postmates, add Black-owned restaurant filters to their sites — a change made only recently.
“It’s not a trend for me to help the community and help our people,” Cabello says. “We’re trying to make the dollar circulate. And that’s what [customers] do every time they support us. They support my business, they support the restaurant, and they support the drivers.”
That speaks to David Gavin, who owns Blazin Flavorz in North Philly, another Black and Mobile client: “We are going to be that generation right here to change the way we do business and to work with each other to promote each other and uplift each other.”
Gavin also identifies with Cabello’s journey as a business owner; like Cabello, he set out as an entrepreneur with little to no blueprint or guidance when he opened Blazin Flavorz on Germantown Avenue in 2013. “I had to teach myself the whole entire business,” Gavin says.
Jones’ story is much the same. She initially tried to learn the restaurant-business ropes by asking to work for free at other restaurants. “Most of them said no,” she says with a laugh. She was selling dinners out of her home when she fell in love with the 63rd Street spot that would eventually become Star Fusion in 2015.
When Jones first approached third-party delivery partners, she was told Caviar wasn’t available in her neighborhood, and that Grubhub would only process pickup orders. Things have since changed — she partners with both platforms, as well as Black and Mobile — but Black and Mobile still delivers to a wider radius, and it hires drivers from the neighborhoods Jones has lived in, which she appreciates. She’s contemplating partnering with them exclusively at Star Fusion Express.
As Cabello eyes other cities (L.A., Brooklyn, New Orleans, Baltimore, Chicago), he calls out to customers to name their favorite Black-owned restaurants on Black and Mobile’s Instagram account, now almost 80,000 followers strong. Commenters reply in droves, tagging restaurants and business owners, giving the start-up a framework for expansion — and furthering this budding platform’s mission.
“Our businesses are underrepresented,” Cabello says. “We have to do a better job of getting our business out there and just letting people know where we are. And that’s really what I’m doing.”