How much of the world can be delivered to your door before your neighbors realize the street feels like a highway with all the traffic? That’s the trouble facing some New York and New Jersey neighborhoods where a new service known as Wonder is testing the limits of what delivery means. Wonder is a food delivery service that not only brings food to customers, but finishes cooking that food on their street in special vans fitted with ovens and stoves. The extra noise, congestion, and pollution of vans parked and idling in neighborhoods is upsetting some residents who have had their fill. Paul Berger reports in The Wall Street Journal:
Matt Peyton was lying down one evening when the rumble of what sounded like a bus engine reverberated around his bedroom.
Mr. Peyton, a 58-year-old commercial photographer, looked out his window and spotted a long van at the curb. He assumed it was an airport transit service that had gotten lost, so he went outside to help.
”I look inside the truck and I see a lady baking what looked like bread with a full-on oven,” Mr. Peyton said. “She’s spreading some sort of guacamole on it, and I’m going: ‘What on earth is this?’ ”
This is Wonder, a startup meal-delivery service whose gray-and-beet-colored Mercedes vans have become a common sight—and sound—most evenings in about two dozen New Jersey commuter towns near New York City. The company, whose most recent funding round valued it at $3.5 billion, is expanding rapidly and aims to dispatch thousands of its trucks across the country.
These days, it isn’t enough to get takeout delivered to your door. Wonder’s meals are partially cooked in a central kitchen and then delivered in “mobile restaurants” by a “chef-on-the-road” who finishes off the order at the curb. The company has bought the off-premises rights to some of the country’s best-known restaurants, offering the “seafood artistry” of Daisuke Nakazawa or a juicy rib-eye from Bobby Flay.
Wonder’s food doesn’t arrive soggy or lukewarm like regular takeout because its chefs finish off meals at the curb using impingement ovens that blast heat at dishes and sous vide in which vacuum-sealed food is cooked in a water bath.
The trucks have become a godsend for time-starved families, many of them New York City transplants craving the variety and convenience of food from 20 restaurants delivered to their front porch in about 40 minutes.
But in towns like South Orange, peppered with electric cars and lawn signs proclaiming that “Science is Real,” and where gas leaf blowers were banned this summer, the diesel vans aren’t universally welcomed.
“There’s a stigma of calling the Wonder truck and having them idle outside your house for the decadent purpose of making you dinner in a truck,” said Will Meyer, a 41-year-old attorney, who concedes the food is quick and tasty. “It feels like this is late empire sort of stuff.”
“I curse their trucks as I see them,” said Dan Dietrich, a 55-year-old stay-at-home dad who bought his first electric car almost 10 years ago. “Why do we need trucks burning diesel fuel running around to feed one family at a time and sitting idling in front of someone’s house in a supposedly liberal town?”
Several fights over the trucks have broken out on a Facebook group that covers South Orange and the neighboring town of Maplewood. Lisa Bressler, a 48-year-old sales executive and mother of two boys, posted in May asking when Wonder would start delivering on Fridays and Saturdays in South Orange. “The post, of course, opened a can of worms,” she said.
Wonder’s online critics pile on the company for noise and pollution. Fans rush to defend its convenient, reasonably priced meals. Ms. Bressler said she doesn’t see the difference between Wonder and the Amazon and UPS trucks that circulate around town all day. “It doesn’t bother me,” she said. “I guess I like unnecessary luxuries.”
A Wonder government relations representative—referred to by some in the towns as the “Wonder woman”—has attended two public meetings in Maplewood “where people were arguing with her,” said Dean Dafis, Maplewood’s mayor.
Mr. Dafis, 52 years old, has fielded complaints about truck noise and truck smells, about trucks blocking driveways and trucks polluting the air, not to mention concerns the trucks steal business from local restaurants. He said many issues could be resolved if neighbors simply talked to one another, but there is also an element of folks disapproving of their neighbors’ environmental choices. “There’s a lot of that going on in South Orange and Maplewood,” he said.
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