Ilia Papas, co-founder and CTO of Blue Apron, says the company wasn’t always known by its catchy name.
Once upon a time, the company was known as Part and Parsley.
“Which was a pun on Part and Parcel,” Papas said. “Which is difficult to hear, and if you understand what part and parcel is, it’s taking the good from the bad, so it’s not even a positive connotation anyway. And people really don’t like parsley.”
When Chef Matt Wadiak, a Chez Panisse alum, agreed to come on board, he insisted the name of the company be changed to Blue Apron, according to Papas.
“At that point we already had the Part and Parsley website made,” he said. “Everything was done, we were ready to go.”
The story behind Blue Apron:
“Traditionally chefs in France when training to cook wear blue aprons,” Papas said. “Chefs like Thomas Keller who has the French Laundry in Yountville, and Julia Child, continued to wear blue aprons as a sign of humility. That, as a chef, you are never done learning. And that’s one of our core values, lifelong learning.”
Papas was the keynote speaker today at the well-attended West Contra Costa Economic Summit at The Craneway Pavilion, a gathering of the local business community, community leaders and elected officials that aims to spark economic growth.
Papas talked about his company’s rise from a simple idea — to deliver boxed ingredients for meals that consumers can cook at home — to national fame. And he, of course, gave plenty of props to the City of Richmond, where his company launched a fulfillment center about five years ago.
A computer science graduate at Tufts University, Papas worked in tech consulting in Boston for about a decade before he was convinced by a venture capitalist to launch a startup. After moving to New York, he married his love for food and cooking with an idea. Noting the difficulty in tracking down ingredients for dishes (having to go to three different stores at times), wouldn’t it be great if those ingredients could be delivered directly to you, and in amounts you need?
Along with Matt Salzberg and Wadiak, Papas launched Blue Apron. By late June 2012 from New York, a website was up and running and a supplier relationship was set up. The fledgling company shipped its first 30 boxes to friends and family in Manhattan, and the feedback was positive.
“People were using phrases like ‘I didn’t know I could cook something like that,'” Papas said. “This was something that was creating an emotional connection with people. From that point on, it exploded.”
Keeping up with demand was the problem over the next four years. Only a year after opening business, Blue Apron decided to expand to the West Coast. After considering Reno and Los Angeles, it landed on Richmond as a “sweet spot,” Papas said, as the city has access to “tons of amazing food, proximity to farms, but also really good shipping access.”
“Opening up our Richmond plant allowed us to hit 80 percent of the country between the East and West Coast,” Papas said. “When we opened in August 2013, we were shipping out just under 10,000 meals.”
Over the next two years, that expanded to over 200,000 meals, Papas said.
Today, Blue Apron operates in about 200,000 square feet in Richmond, and is very much part of the community, offering jobs, workforce training and safety programs. It also has fulfillment centers in New Jersey and Texas.
The annual West Contra Costa Economic Summit also included a rare panel discussion among all five mayors of West County cities, who talked directly to the owners and representatives of local businesses at the Craneway event, which also included a networking and resource fair. The event was presented by the Richmond Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Chevron Richmond and other community partners.