Wonder continues to find financial backing even as it pivots from vans to brick-and-mortar delivery concept

Venture-backed food business Wonder had an idea that it’s leaving behind. In its place, it has about four more.

It was at the start of last year that the startup hit reverse on its initial concept, which involved parking kitchen-equipped vans near customers and delivering food straight to doorsteps. Since then, it’s put its name behind almost a dozen physical locations, acquired meal kit pioneer Blue Apron, attracted massive investment and added a business-to-business arm.

A company executive, Daniel Shlossman, said Wonder’s mission remains “making great food more accessible.” The simple tagline, however, doesn’t betray that it’s up against some mighty competition in the app-driven food delivery space it’s entering now.

Daniel Shlossman is Wonder’s chief marketing officer.

“But, in such a massive industry, there’s a lot of room for players and folks to be successful,” Shlossman said. “Larger platforms, like a DoorDash or an Uber Eats, we’ll fit in there among all of them. … But, more than competitors, we’re focused on customers, and giving them what they want more often and more quickly.”

As for what it believes customers want, Shlossman, chief marketing officer at Wonder, paints a picture of a common household dilemma:

“The classic, ‘What should we have for dinner?’ It’s almost certain that not everyone will agree, especially if, like me, you’re taking two kids’ feelings into it. So, this idea of multirestaurant ordering and having everything delivered all together is part of the beauty here.”

Wonder has set up 11 delivery-first food establishments regionally. Each location boasts a collection of restaurants, encompassing different types of cuisines and menus curated by celebrity chefs such as José Andrés, Michael Symon and Bobby Flay. Wonder vows that its delivered food, no matter the amount of different restaurants selected from, will arrive piping hot within about 30 minutes.

It’s doing that by cooking food with the same special ovens that finished partially prepared meals in Wonder’s fleet of vans. Although it’s ditched the vans for what the company believes is a model it can more easily scale, Shlossman said the company still applies a lot of what it learned operating the mobile kitchens.

“We were able to use all that know-how and technology and insert it into the brick-and-mortar in some ways,” he said. “I came in shortly after we first opened up a location on the Upper West Side. And, while I wasn’t here at that earlier phase of the company, I’ve heard all about what we’ve learned and how we’ve been able to apply it.”

Shlossman comes to Wonder from Sweetgreen, a fast-casual salad chain that scaled up from one Washington, D.C., location in 2007 to more than 200 locations today.

Last year, its first year of leaning into the brick-and-mortar model, Wonder added 10 locations. It’s only added one so far this year, but expects to end with 25 new restaurants by the year’s end. Next year, it expects to add 90.

“We’ve already seen this work well in both urban and suburban settings,” Shlossman said. “We feel good about that.”

One of the company’s chosen settings hasn’t historically been a go-to foodie destination: a Walmart store (and, one might add, in Quakertown, Pennsylvania).

Wonder offers a variety of foods.

It’s offering the menus of eight restaurant brands associated with Wonder at that location, which is being followed by locations in Ledgewood and Teterboro stores. Walmart is also where the founder of Wonder, Marc Lore, served as a CEO of the company’s U.S. e-commerce outfit after launching and selling two e-commerce companies in New Jersey, Diapers.com and Jet.com.

Lore also last month announced that Wonder raised a whopping $700 million from investors. That capital came from a mix of existing shareholders, new investors and his own $100 million investment. That followed an announcement late last year that the food & beverage giant Nestlé was investing in and partnering with the pivoting food-delivery startup.

The company is also now involved in delivering ingredients for customers to make food themselves, following its purchase of Blue Apron. Shlossman refers to that acquisition as an example of how it’s working to “meet people where they are and how they want to eat.”

Weave it all together, and Shlossman believes there’s a real growth story brewing.

“We were born in New Jersey and we’re growing in the Northeast, but we absolutely believe we have a runway to the rest of the country, and the rest of the world,” he said. “We’ve worked to lay the foundation for ultimately building the super app for mealtime.”

Shlossman added there’s another facet of the business already growing nationwide that folks should “keep their eye on.” It’s a business-to-business concept called WonderWorks.

What it’s doing with that is offering “innovative kitchen equipment” that can prepare a menu informed by Wonder’s research & development. An example of one of the food items they market, called Luna pizza, can be made “at the touch of a button,” without food preparation or experienced staff.

The clientele it’s going after includes hospitality businesses, sports arenas and stadiums, airports, cruise lines and health care facilities.

“We think it’s a big growth opportunity for us to give these enterprises an end-to-end turnkey solution for high-quality, high-speed food using our technology,” Shlossman said. “It’s something that hasn’t gotten a lot of press yet, but it’s growing quickly.”