53T Hoping to Breathe New Life Into Cincinnati’s Bike Courier Industry

After years of few options for those seeking food or product delivery in Cincinnati, several companies have started to spring up over the past year. One of those includes 53T, which is not only offering delivery services, but doing so in an effort to bring back the city’s once vibrant bike courier industry.

Although limited to Over-the-Rhine, Downtown and the West End, 53T offers delivery from seven different restaurants, and parcel delivery that utilizes their cargo bikes and trailers.

Local eateries served by 53T include Happy Belly on Vine, Pho Lang Thang, Cheapside Café, Quan Hapa, Park+Vine and Brezel. Pi Pizzeria was most recently added in February.

Dave Adams and Ian Bulling partnered to start 53T early last year. The two started working on the concept independently, but were introduced to each other in January 2014, and decided to team up.

Each has their own reason for wanting to start the business. Bulling was working as a bicycle messenger and wanted to keep making a living at it, while also bringing back the bike messenger community that existed in the city a decade ago.

“Like the advertising industry, legal work involved a continual flow of documents circulating throughout the city,” Jeffrey Kidder wrote in his 2011 book entitled Urban Flow: Bike Messengers and the City. “While the advertising industry is an example of why bike couriers are still useful, it should be apparent that much of what messengers were delivering in the early 1980s can now be digitized…In fact, messengers today are delivering little more than the table scraps remaining from the grand conversion to virtual data.”

In understanding that changing landscape, Adams says it was the lack of restaurant delivery options prompted him to enter the business. After identifying that need, he worked with Bulling to develop a business plan, and then go through the CO.STARTERS business planning course for creative entrepreneurs.

“It really helped in synthesizing getting our ideas together, realizing what we had to do on a daily basis, on a yearly basis, as far as stuff as basic as tax filings,” said Bulling. “There were a lot of things we overlooked initially, and it helped to get some dialogue started between us that may not have otherwise happened.”

Bulling explained that their business is named for a 53 tooth, which is typically the largest chain ring on a road bike, and equates to the quickest gear on a bike.

Adams and Bulling are 53T’s principal couriers, but they say that they employ other riders as contractors and demand dictates. That demand, Bulling says, has been picking up since their launch last June.

“We have gotten an explosion in volume since the new year” Bulling explained. “We got a spike in October when it started getting cold and then in January we got hit hard.”

In mid-February they extended evening delivery hours to 9pm, with service from Pi Pizzeria, Quan Hapa and Brezel during those expanded times. Currently 53T only offers service on weekdays, but Bulling noted that they have contemplated the idea of adding weekend service as well. The problem, he says, is that their clients are so busy on weekends that they are concerned about adding to their kitchen volume with deliveries.

In the future, the pair also is looking to add service to areas outside of the center city.

“Since our model is so simple, when we get to that point it’s just as easy as transplanting to Northside or Mt. Adams or Walnut Hills,” Adams explained.

From there he says that they would most likely create different zones throughout the city that would operate separately from one another, but under the same organizational structure.

In many cities, including Cincinnati, courier services like this have taken a hit due to the increasing use and reliability of electronic communications. Since the courier industry had typically focused on the delivery of documents, Adams and Bulling said they needed to find a new niche delivering food and parcels.

“I think the model in the industry has been expanding to be as flexible as possible, diversifying the kind of work you’re doing,” stated Bulling. “I think there’s a lot of potential for same-day retail delivery.”

Same-day delivery is something a number of businesses in the center city are already doing on their own, but the potential seems even greater to Adams and Bulling. They have added delivery options for Park+Vine, for example, but so far just focus on their lunch counter.

“We wanted them [Park+Vine] as a client so when we do expand into doing grocery delivery or ancillary items, we will already have them as a client and it will be easy to get started.”

They are not alone in their positive outlook on the industry, as Cincybite launched similar offerings at the end of 2013. One key difference between the two, however, is that Cincybite utilizes cars for their operations instead of bikes.

“I think the thing that distinguishes us from those companies is that we love what we do and we take what we do very seriously,” Bullings responded. “We believe that what we do takes a certain unique set of skills and physical ability, and I think that dedication and passion comes through in our work. Plus, we’re faster than cars.”

All Aboard Ohio Cincinnati Chapter to Meet at Pi Pizzeria This Tuesday

All Aboard Ohio will be hosting another local chapter meeting in Cincinnati on Tuesday, February 10 at 6pm. The meeting is free and open to the public, but those who attend are encouraged to sign up as members for the non-profit advocacy group.

This month’s meeting will take place at Pi Pizzeria at 199 E. Sixth Street. The recently opened restaurant has become known for selecting their restaurant location due to its location on the starter line for the Cincinnati Streetcar system, and for paying a base $10.10/hour minimum wage.

“We want to thank Pi Pizzeria owner Chris Sommers and his staff for hosting us,” said Ken Prendergast, Executive Director of All Aboard Ohio. “If you haven’t had the opportunity to try it yet you are in for a treat.”

Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young (D) will serve as the special guest speaker at the quarterly local chapter meeting.

Prendergast says that the group will discuss updates related to the ‘Extend The Hoosier‘ campaign that is aiming to establish daily intercity rail service between Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Chicago; the Cincinnati Streetcar; and provide updates on what is happening with the Wasson Light Rail Line project.

While All Aboard Ohio has been around for years, the organization is experiencing a resurgent base of supporters as of late, particularly in the Cincinnati region where several rail projects are currently under development.

Prendergast says that those who want to can do so for just a $35 annual membership fee, and that those dues to toward supporting these projects and are tax deductible.

A Look Back at the Top Stories on UrbanCincy in 2014

Findlay Market StorefrontsNow that 2014 has come to a close, we at UrbanCincy would like to take a moment to look back on what’s happened in the past year. The following are UrbanCincy‘s top five most popular news stories from 2014:

  1. Eli’s Barbeque, Maverick Chocolate First of Several New Tenants to Open at Findlay Market
    This year marked a turning point for the area known as the Northern Liberties in Over-the-Rhine, with several new developments being announced. The first of these announcements was in April, when craft chocolatier Maverick Chocolate and popular East End restaurant Eli’s Barbeque announced they would open at Findlay Market. Later in the year, Model Group announced a $14 million office development along Race Street and Urban Sites announced their plan to renovate the historic Film Center building.
  2. Uber and Lyft to Soon Enter Cincinnati Market
    In 2014, Cincinnatians gained a brand new transportation option as ridesharing services Uber and Lyft came to town. Our own Jake Mecklenborg began driving for Uber shortly after their launch and told us about his experiences on The UrbanCincy Podcast Episode #41. In November, Cincinnati City Council passed new regulations for carsharing providers, and we discussed this at the beginning of Episode #44.
  3. City Planners Recommend Transportation Overlay District for Wasson Railroad Corridor
    For years, UrbanCincy has been following the Wasson Way project and writing about the corridor’s potential usage as both a bike trail and a rail transportation corridor. The project took a step forward this year, as the Department of City Planning & Buildings announced a plan that would allow for both uses. We’ll be keeping our eye on this project in 2015.
  4. Popular St. Louis-Based Pi Pizzeria to Open Cincinnati Location in AT580 Building
    In collaboration with our partners at nextSTL, UrbanCincy reported on Pi Pizzeria’s entry into the Cincinnati market. The restaurant opened in the AT580 Building, which is currently undergoing a transformation from office space into residential. Pi co-owner Chris Sommers mentioned that the company was “amazed at the resurgence of Downtown and OTR” and chose the location based on its proximity to the Cincinnati Streetcar route.
  5. Findlay Market Ready to Work With Developers Poised to Transform Area Around It
    UrbanCincy talked to Joe Hansbauer, President and CEO of Findlay Market, about how Findlay Market can serve as the hub for new retail, office, and residential development in the Northern Liberties.

Ohio RiverOccasionally, we like to share a photo gallery or video taken by an UrbanCincy team member or a guest contributor. In 2014, our top five most popular visual features were:

  1. Take a Look at These 20 Breathtaking Photos of Cincinnati’s Center City
    Brian Spitzig shares some of his aerial photography from the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine.
  2. Take a Look at CVG’s Abandoned Concourse C Through Ronny Salerno’s Lens
    Photographer Ronny Salerno documents the abandoned Concourse C at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport, which serves as a symbol of how far the airport has fallen.
  3. Check Out These 14 Amazing Images of Cincinnati’s Inner City Neighborhoods
    Enjoy more of Brian Spitzig’s aerial photography, this time from the West End, Queensgate, Corryville, Mt. Auburn, Mt. Adams, Clifton Heights, Walnut Hills, and University Heights.
  4. Thousands of New Residential Units to Transform Downtown
    Anyone visiting Downtown Cincinnati in 2014 was certainly aware of the huge amount of construction happening in the urban core. Looking back at this photo set shows how much progress has been made on Seven at Broadway, Mercer Commons, AT580, Broadway Square, and other projects in just a year.
  5. 49 Shots from the 2014 Northside Fourth of July Parade
    Jake Mecklenborg captures some interesting sights from Cincinnati’s most eclectic parade.

 

Popular St. Louis-Based Pi Pizzeria to Open Cincinnati Location in AT580 Building

Pi Pizzeria is set to open its seventh location, and only its second outside of St. Louis. The Cincinnati location will be in the AT580 building at 6th and Main Streets, one block from the Contemporary Arts Center, 21c Museum Hotel, and Aronoff Center, near several major corporate headquarters, including Procter & Gamble, and within walking distance of the riverfront and sports stadiums. The restaurant will seat approximately 125 and is being designed by SPACE Architecture of St. Louis.

Pi at AT580 Building - Cincinnati, OH

“We’ve been admiring the Cincinnati market for a few years now, but just started our search about a year ago,” Pi Co-owner Chris Sommers told nextSTL. “We are amazed at the resurgence of Downtown and OTR, and had to be a part of it.” Sommers has had his eye on Cincinnati for some time before finally signing a lease. Chris’s wife Anne Schuermann Sommers is from Cincinnati and the couple visits frequently.

AT580 Building - Cincinnati, OHGoogle Streetview of 6th and Main in Cincinnati.

In addition to serving award-winning thin crust and deep dish pizzas with a signature corn meal crust, the restaurant focuses on local brews and plans to serve only St. Louis and Cincinnati beers. “We are also very excited to partner with our hometown St. Louis’ largest local brewer Schlafly, featuring their beers for the first time ever in Ohio,” Sommers shared. The St. Louis Brewery, maker of Schlafly beers, is the largest craft brewer in St. Louis at 60,000 barrels per year. Schlafly produces Pi Common, a take on the Anchor Steam beer that started the craft brewing revolution.

A variety of beers from the burgeoning brewery scene in Cincinnati will be featured. “The brewing scene has exploded in Cincinnati and we can’t wait to pour as many local craft beers as possible,” stated Sommers. Pi Partners with local breweries in St. Louis and Washington D.C., hosting events, tap takeovers and offering custom brews, available exclusively at Pi. They plan to do the same in Cincinnati. Sommers also envisions a streetcar beer crawl once the line is running. The Cincinnati Streetcar will run on Main street past Pi.

Although created for internal design purposes, Pi agreed to share this video exclusively with nextSTL and UrbanCincy:

Sommers waited out the streetcar debate before committing to a Cincinnati location. “We choose our locations based on major transit lines, and feel the streetcar will be game-changing for Cincinnati,” Sommers told nextSTL. Pi’s original St. Louis location is located in the transit-rich Delmar Loop, the downtown St. Louis Pi sits atop a MetroLink station, and the D.C. restaurant is near both Metro Center and Chinatown Stations.

Pi at the MX - St. Louis, MOThe Downtown St. Louis Pi location.

Pi at the MX - St. Louis, MOThe Downtown St. Louis and Cincinnati Pi restaurant locations share many similarities (via Google Streetview).

The original Pi location opened in the City of Louis on Delmar Boulevard in 2008. Later that year, then Senator Obama visited St. Louis, speaking to an estimated 100,000 people at the Arch. An aide from Obama’s campaign was sent to get pizza and chose his favorite new pizzeria, Pi. The President became a fan and Sommers and Co-owner Frank Uible personally delivered Pi pizza to the White House for a 2009 dinner.

Capitalizing on the publicity, Pi opened a location in D.C.’s Penn Quarter in 2011. There are now four locations in the St. Louis area, including the Delmar Loop, Downtown St. Louis, Kirkwood, and Chesterfield. A Pi Truck also roams the roads and was used extensively to test the market in both downtown St. Louis and D.C. before opening brick and mortar locations. Sommers and Uible recently opened Gringo, a Mexican restaurant, in St. Louis’ Central West End, and have explored other restaurant concepts.

Pi was recently back in the Presidential spotlight, as it was recognized during the President’s weekly radio address for increasing employee minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The Pi mention is at 1:31 in the video below. The current minimum wage in Missouri is $7.50 an hour, and $7.95 in Ohio. Pi employees in Ohio will make a minimum wage of $10.10.

Pi at AT580 Building - Cincinnati, OHA screen grab from above video shows street level design.

The AT580 building has been largely vacant since 2011 when Great American Insurance Company moved a couple blocks to Queen City Square, a building that happens to have been designed by Gyo Obata of the St. Louis architecture firm HOK. The 17-story tower was designed by RTKL Associates and Harry Hake & Partners for Southern Ohio Bank. Construction was completed in 1974.

The building sold in 2012 for $16M, the minimum bid allowed as a sheriff’s sale, after the owner had defaulted on its loan. The tower was again sold in early 2013 to Anderson Birkla Investment Partners of Indianapolis for $13.7 million. The new owner has proposed 179 apartments, 48,000 sf of retail space on two levels and 181,000 sf of office space, expected to be anchored by Fifth Third Bank. Last year, the Cincinnati city council approved of a 12-year property tax exemption valued at $4.8M.

If all goes according to plan, build out will begin in the coming weeks and a grand opening could be held in August.

This article is cross-posted at nextSTL.com