As restaurants adjust to the pandemic with new business models like home delivery, local wholesale food distributers like Go Kiyoi are following suit, with the San Mateo-based Japanese food company starting online ordering home delivery for goods and ingredients like sushi-grade seafood, abalone, uni, caviar and imported sweet Japanese oranges and other produce.

The pandemic has changed food distribution, with lots of people getting more opportunities to cook at home. Jeffrey Su, 40, is the co-owner of Go Kiyoi, which provides Asian goods to restaurants and people throughout the Bay Area, and is what he describes as Costco without the membership. At the beginning of the pandemic, he noticed that many people did not have the right restaurant-grade ingredients while cooking at home. He started a new business model of delivering ingredients and products to homes because his primary customer base, restaurants, were struggling and not ordering as many goods.

People can now visit the company website to order various seafood and meat items, desserts, drinks and produce shipped to them to cook at home. Orders are delivered the next day, while people who pick up orders can do so on the same day if ordered before 11 a.m. Popular online retail options include sea urchins and Asian organic produce, with online home orders mostly from families. The company is currently sending about 20 orders a day to homes on average, with various stops in San Francisco, Oakland, Fremont, San Jose and the Peninsula.

“This has legs, though. Online retail definitely is something that is more acceptable with society now than before,” Su said.

With its online store, Su hired another driver specifically to handle local deliveries. His original thought was to do curbside pickup only, but his location at 1222 S. Amphlett Blvd. does not have enough curbside to be eligible. The company only does home delivery in the Bay Area, as going outside the Bay Area would drive up the cost, which he doesn’t want to pass onto the consumer.

“It is something that has potential, and there is a change in the industry, and there is a change in the way that people purchase goods, so we want to take this opportunity to run with it and see if there is another business model available for us,” Su said.

He sees potential with online retail, but Go Kiyoi is a business-to-business transaction company. Online retail, for now, is just a small part of his sales. Most of its competitors have also started pivoting toward an online retail model, and he decided now would be the time to follow suit.

“We were a little bit late to the show because I didn’t want to just throw something out there,” Su said.

Although Go Kiyoi is late in starting online retail, he believes it has allowed him to learn from competitors. He plans to continue online retail into the future as long as customers want the service. While restaurant customers have a steady weekly ordering habit, online retail is more inconsistent but includes a broader spectrum of people who order. Su is interested in building more a core group interested in its products or creating a virtual grocery store for customers.

Su has also pivoted to start working with more supermarkets and retail stores during the pandemic, which requires different inventory and products. Su wants to look into mailing goods through United Parcel Service and FedEx to reach more people out of state.

Su started the business in 2014 in partnership with his mother after growing up around the industry when his parents owned a wholesale food business. His weekdays begin when he gets to work at 4 a.m. until going home at 7 p.m., with a half-day on Saturday. Go Kiyoi’s main customer base includes 500 plus restaurant customers spanning from Sacramento down to Monterey. The company has 20 employees and eight trucks that make Bay Area deliveries to restaurants, with the Peninsula area its biggest customer base, while a significant portion of the business comes from Fremont and the San Jose area.

COVID-19 has slowed business as many restaurants order fewer items due to restrictions and financial losses. Su believes some restaurants already in the hole will have trouble surviving given restrictions on indoor dining. COVID-19 has caused him to consolidate where he can and restructuring toward retail. Despite the slowdown, he believes he will get through the pandemic with the shift in business models. He sees a lot of potential in the company as a good foundation to build and have if he expands and gets into the restaurant industry.

Go to gokiyoi.com to check out the offerings or to learn more.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102

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