This story was originally published in the May 23, 2018 issue of Input Fort Wayne as Waiter on the Way: Growing a business by ‘doing the right thing’.
Have you ever wanted delivery service from a restaurant that doesn’t offer it?
That’s the idea behind Waiter on the Way.
The process is simple. Visit the website, and you’ll find a list of local and national restaurants you can order from with detailed menus and weekly blog stories.
Simply call or place an order on the mobile-friendly interface, and the food you’re craving will be delivered to your home or office.
While other delivery services have come and gone in northeast Indiana over the years, Waiter on the Way has remained a community staple. Based out of downtown Fort Wayne, it continues to grow its influence in the region.
When the owner, Derek Berkes, purchased the company in 2001, he had a staff of 20 people and delivered from 20 restaurants.
Today, he has more than 110 employees, delivering from more than 140 restaurants, including local favorites like Casa, Coney Island, and Shigs In Pit.
“When we started, we were averaging about 65 orders a day. Now, we average 265 orders a day,” Berkes says.
He may have been honored with a 2017 Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly Business Excellence Award for “Business of the Year – Revenue Less than $5 Million,” but money was not always easily accessible for him.
Instead, he says his personal failures and his ability to learn from them are what gave him the work ethic he has today.
From debt to success
Before Berkes turned 30, he accumulated massive amounts of debt as a result of trying to build a business, create cash flow, and hire a large staff.
He wanted to take Waiter on the Way to the next level and believed that accumulating debt while doing so was the only viable approach.
In his attempt to grow the company, the pressure of making money for the sake of making money become overbearing.
He knew he needed to change something.
“I used to chase money. I made the profit more important than anything else because I had so many people relying on the success of the business.” Berkes says. “That approach simply doesn’t work. I was very driven. I still am, but I changed what I allowed to drive me.”
In his early 30s, he decided to reset his approach around creating value for the Fort Wayne community.
“I focus on the quality and the relationships,” Berkes says. “I want to do the right thing every time and with every interaction. Those components will allow money to chase me instead of me chasing money. I never worry about the money now. My focus is on relationships and people.”
Berkes describes this approach as customer-centric, starting with what customers need and then building a business out of that.
“I want the customer to win first,” he says. “The restaurant wins second. The driver wins third. The operator wins fourth. I am happy to come in fifth. I win last, or I don’t win at all.”
However, he’s found that with this approach, he does win more often than not, overcoming the odds even in dire circumstances.
During the 2008 financial crisis, when a majority of companies were losing revenue, Berkes called a team meeting.
He told everyone that they were going to grow the business that year instead of losing money.
“At the end of that year we grew our business by one percent,” he says. “That might not sound like a big deal but in 2008, it was huge. I outworked everyone else. When people were eating or sleeping, I was working. We pushed the brand, made more relationships in the community, and connected with more restaurants to help them sell their food.”
When Berkes speaks, he focuses more on passion than on competition. If he is in competition with anyone, it appears to be with himself.
“I wanted to earn it and outwork other people in a good way,” Berkes says. “Being passionate, and loving what you do is so important in any industry.”
Today, Waiter on the Way is open seven days a week and used by tens of thousands of customers. The drivers average a combined total of over two million miles a year, delivering meals to homes and offices around northeast Indiana.
Looking to their future, their influence in the region continues to grow.
Doing more for the city
Berkes was born and raised in Fort Wayne. He never left.
“It’s a good city,” he says. “We want to support the community. The downtown Fort Wayne revitalization was something that we knew would be amazing.”
Waiter on the Way is headquartered at the old Journal Gazette building at 701 S. Clinton St. They are located in the center of the action downtown, across from the Allen County Courthouse and next door to the Hoppy Gnome.
“There is a synergy here,” Berkes says, and it drives him to keep coming up with new opportunities for growth.
With other areas of success, including his catering company, WOW Factor Catering, Berkes is always looking for ways he can expand what he does.
He is in the midst of working on a new event center in the downtown Fort Wayne area that he hopes to have open to the public in the days ahead. He isn’t releasing many details yet, but he wants to change the landscape of event centers in Fort Wayne the way he changed food delivery with the success of Waiter on the Way.
“I want to continue to do more for the city and offer real value to the public,” he says. “I want to connect to more people. I want to help others out there who do not have easy access to opportunity.”
When Berkes talks about his employees, the community, or helping someone else, his face lights up.
“You never know what the next opportunity might be,” he says. “The best opportunities are usually unexpected and sitting right in front of us, waiting for us to take advantage of them. Fort Wayne is filled with so much possibility.”
This story was originally published in the May 23, 2018 issue of Input Fort Wayne as Waiter on the Way: Growing a business by ‘doing the right thing’. This story is the second in a series of shared articles between Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana and Input Fort Wayne.