By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Dec 17, 2019 at 11:01 AM Photography: Lori Fredrich

It’s 20 degrees outside. You’re sitting in your nice warm Downtown office and all you can think about is the delicious cheeseburger and addictively seasoned French fries from the Milk Can Hamburgers & Frozen Custard food truck, which parks regularly at 644 N. Plankinton Ave. Unfortunately, the idea of venturing out into the cold and standing in line to get it has zero appeal. 

Fortunately – as they say – there’s an app for that.

Milk Can is the newest addition to a brand new free app called CashDrop, which allows customers to easily order food from the comfort of their home or office and pick it up when it’s ready.

Best of all, the app is crazy simple to use. Just open it up, choose the food vendor from which you’d like to order food, peruse the menu, order the items you like and pay for them (the app integrates with Apple Pay, which means your credit card information is secure). There’s no need to log in; but during check out, you’ll enter your name (or a nickname) and your phone number, which the vendor will use to text you when your order is ready for pick-up.

As an added bonus, the fee for using the app is minimal (up to $0.45 per transaction), which is pennies in comparison to the fees charged by traditional carry-out and delivery services.

It all started at Zócalo Food Park

At Zócalo Food Park, the app has been in place since September. It allows guests to get comfy at the bar, grab a drink and order food at their convenience. They don’t have to bother with heading outside until their food is ready. Guests can also use the app to order food for carry-out.

In fact, the lines this summer at the increasingly popular food truck park were what inspired the creation of the app.

"I’ve been friends with Jesus [Gonzalez] for several years," says Ruben Flores, the developer behind the app. "And we always talked about collaborating on something, but we never got around to it. The first time I visited Zócalo, he walked me through the park. As we walked, he pointed to all the people standing in line for food at each of the food trucks. ‘Look at peoples’ faces,’ he said. ‘People don’t like lines.’ So we started brainstorming how to take the Zócalo experience to the next level."

To get to the bottom of the issue, Flores says they took a hard look at what makes the customer experience at a food truck so challenging.

"When people are standing in a line with people behind them, they often feel rushed," says Flores. "But when they’re allowed to get comfortable and order at their leisure, it leads to a better overall experience. Customers are relaxed, so they don’t make split second decisions. They order what they want … and often, that’s to the food truck’s advantage, because they often order more food."

The resulting app is simple, but robust. There’s even a social component since users can see where others are having lunch or dinner, potentially giving them additional motivation to patronize one of the places on the list.

Cheap for users & free for vendors

On the merchant side of things, the CashDrop app is a no-brainer, chiefly because there’s no charge for a food business to participate.

"We built this in a way that it’s available to merchants for free," says Flores. "We wanted to bring the convenience for consumers to the table; but we didn’t want the burden of expense to fall on the merchant in such a low margin industry."

Adam Sarkis, an industry veteran who most recently worked as beverage manager at the now-closed Phoenix Cocktail Club, is also a collaborator on the app. He’s making use of his industry connections and knowledge to grow the merchant side of the business.

In many ways, it’s been an easy sell.

"You see a lot of restaurant groups investing thousands of dollars in apps that do what CashDrop does," says Sarkis. "A restaurant group in Chicago just invested over $90,000 so that people could order their pizza in advance. Starbucks is another example … their ordering app is vital to their brand.

"But our goal was really to bring the same functionality to small independently owned businesses who don’t have the funds for an independent app. It makes so much sense for businesses like food trucks, food halls and coffee shops, all of which are already serving customers who want convenient quick service."

Fogle agrees.

"For a while, we tried using one of the delivery services at Bass Bay Brewhouse," says Fogle. "So many restaurants are using them, and it seemed like a do or die situation. But, in the end, the delivery service was charging us fees. They were also charging the customer fees. And the only one making out on the deal was the company itself."

So when Sarkis, who he’d met while working at the Intercontinental Hotel years ago, approached him about the app, he said he was all ears.

"If you’re going to survive the winter with a food truck, it makes a lot of sense to limit the amount of time that people have to spend in the cold," he says. "And, in the end, we’re risking nothing. We’re simply making things more convenient for our guests."

Flores says that app usage reached a milestone at Zócalo last week. More people spent money using CashDrop than with cash or credit cards. It’s proof, he says, that they did something right.

"When you champion what’s important to customers, and you offer a service that makes sense to merchants, everyone benefits and everyone is happy," he says.

The future of CashDrop

Currently, the CashDrop app is only available on IOS. However, Flores says a universal web app with all the same functionality is in development, and he expects it to roll out in early 2020. He says they are also experimenting with a kiosk experience which offers much of the convenience of the app, but uses a physical credit card reader.

In the end, he says, the app has a variety of applications that extend well beyond the scope of the food and beverage industry.

"We started with the restaurant industry because they had the most benefit to gain," he says. "But at the end of the day, this app could work at Fiserv Forum, at the movie theater, in retail or at a festival."

Currently, you can use the CashDrop app to order food from Milk Can Hamburgers & Frozen Custard as well as two trucks at Zócalo Food Park (Mazorca Tacos and Ruby’s Bagels). But Flores and Sarkis say they expect the options to expand in the coming months.

During the winter months, Zócalo Food Park has pared down its food truck offerings. From now through early spring tacos are available from Mazorca on Wednesday and Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (the bar stays open later) The food park also hosts DJs in the bar on Friday and Saturday nights and live music twice a month.

In addition, Ruby’s Bagels is open Tuesday through Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; look for them in the heated garage (complete with seating) behind the Zócalo tavern.

Milk Can Hamburgers & Frozen Custard serves regularly at its Plankinton location on weekdays from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Follow them on Facebook for updates and additional service locations.

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

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.