By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Mar 13, 2013 at 9:02 AM Photography:

Dave Keane, Milwaukee area web designer and photographer, hadn’t really thought about starting a food delivery business until he was approached by Toscana Italian Restaurant in Franklin about creating an online ordering system.

"They just wanted to compete against all the other pizza places," Keane says. "An online ordering system for one restaurant can cost between $4 – 12,000. But, then I wondered, why can’t people go to one site to order all kinds of food for carry out or delivery?"

Keane discussed his idea with Eddie Sopiqoti, owner of Toscana, and they hatched a plan to pilot an online ordering system.

That was spring of 2012. By July, Keane launched a web-based system to take Toscana’s carry out and delivery orders. Over the course of the first six months, Toscana did almost $9,000 in online orders, with over 60 percent originating as repeat business.

And that’s how Miltown Chow Down was born. Keane launched the site at more officially in November 2012 with eight restaurants on board. As of March 1, the business has signed close to 30 restaurants, including Sven’s Café, Ward’s House of Prime, Stack’d Burger Bar, Catch 22, Fushimi Japanese Sushi and Buffet and Kasana Café and Catering.

Keane says one of the businesses’ assets is that it’s locally owned and is operating without help from investors or outside sponsorship.

"Our business was grown from the ground up," Keane says. "Since Thanksgiving, we’ve been working full bore to get as many restaurants on board as possible. Our goal is to assist as many independently owned restaurants as possible with our low-cost service."

But how does it work?

For consumers, it’s easy. Next time you get hungry, just hop online, survey your choices, click to see restaurant menus and sign in to place an order for carry-out or delivery, if offered. You can even view a map that shows you if you’re within a restaurant’s delivery area. Once confirmation of your order is received, you can either pick up the order, or if you opted for delivery, sit back and wait, assured that your food is on its way.

From the restaurant side, it’s just as easy.  Keane takes care of just about everything. An online presence with Miltown Chow Down is absolutely free. Keane will stop over and set up access to the web-based system in person. For $225, he’ll even set you up with your own tablet to make taking online orders easier. Once a restaurant is set-up, it’s just a matter of choosing how they’d like to be notified about online orders.

For $1.50 per order, restaurants can choose from a text or automated phone call notification that lets them know that a consumer has placed an online order. The order itself is communicated to the restaurant by fax or email. A loyalty program offers additional benefits for restaurants who stick with the program.

For local eateries with existing web sites, who would prefer not to send customers off-site for carry out and delivery orders, Keane offers an option for seamless web integration of the Miltown Chow Down ordering system on the restaurant’s web site for just $7 per month.

"Other online systems charge restaurants 10-17 percent of each order. But, we wanted to keep costs down," says Grace Ludewig, who handles marketing and sales for Miltown Chow Down. "Making it affordable for the restaurants means they benefit from increased revenue."

Ludewig says there are also other benefits for restaurants signing up with Miltown Chow Down.

"An online presence is vital for today’s restaurants," she says. "It saves on labor, mistakes and human error. Miltown Chow Down is a way for even the smallest restaurants to be online, and become part of a larger locally-owned restaurant community."

Being part of that community means the restaurants benefit from collective advertising to corporate businesses, universities and other audiences through the Miltown Chow Down brand, giving them an easy way to increase their carry-out and delivery business.

Unlike the use of coupons or Groupons, which often cost restaurants up to 50 percent of their profits, the pay-per-order model allows restaurants to increase access to their food, and encourage repeat business, at a fraction of the cost. 

Restaurants have the option to make their own deliveries, or use existing services like FlavorCycle. But, for restaurants who don’t have a delivery system in place, Miltown Chow Down has also teamed up with Breakaway Couriers to offer restaurants a connection to fast, efficient delivery services.

According to Keane, the next step is to really ramp up marketing efforts to local businesses.

"We have a good base of restaurants, and we’re offering a great service at a very low cost," Keane says. "Now, it’s time to get our name out there. Ultimately, it’s about offering the opportunity to as many locally owned restaurants as possible."

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.