When you’re sitting at home craving a delicious meal, who do you call for a delivery? That was the recurring lament of Tarek Bahou and his wife, Anna, and the answer found them launching a new business.
In August 2016 the duo and friend Kevin Bertel launched STX Delivery – which became Island Direct as the service grew – and the dream of home delivery became a reality for them and the big island.
Bahou’s background in technology was the impetus for the platform that would become STX Delivery. He had experience in building games for professional sports teams and casinos, and his decade-long working relationship with Bertel, who worked as the architect of the system, propelled the home delivery idea.
Anna Bahou is the company’s CEO, while Tarek Bahou is chairman of the board.
According to the website, the STX Delivery group partnered with the island’s best restaurants and markets and continue to add new partners to the service every day.
“Our company chose skillful delivery drivers and created an online platform that connected our partners with our growing customer base,” the website says.
“We launched St. Thomas in August 2017,” Tarek Bahou said, which prompted the company name change to Island Direct.
Then like so many other island business, Island Direct was “wiped out” by the 2017 hurricanes, and the delivery service was forced to close for two months.
“Reopening was a slow move with the loss of power and internet service to businesses and residents,” Bahou said, but the time was not wasted. “Almost a full year later, we mapped the entire island grid with GPS coordinates to build the St. Croix delivery.”
The website is simple to navigate, Bahou said. You register, choose where you want to make your purchase, fill your cart and continue from there.
Deliveries by Island Direct are free if the restaurant or market is within three miles of the delivery destination. For longer trips the fee is based on distance traveled, minus $5. There is a suggested tip of $3, $5, $7 or $10. The hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Island Direct can be accessed online at its website or through its free app.
The website is easy for some. It’s not easy for those who have no smartphone, or for those who are not tech savvy.
When asked if provisions have been made for those residents who have no device, who are technologically limited or for the older population, Bahou said there is no solution at this time. He suggested family members and friends become involved to assist the older population with online orders.
Don Coley falls into the older generation category. He lives on the west side of the island and is home bound. Coley prides himself on being “somewhat tech savvy” and has made online purchases in the past from Amazon and other online businesses. He admits to experiencing challenges with his initial encounter on the Island Direct website, but said the staff was “very helpful” is setting up his account and walking him through the process.
Coley said, “I am very pleased with the delivery. The shopper called me directly from Plaza West with questions about my order. She was very knowledgeable. My order was filled completely,” he said. “The delivery person was quite nice and called me when she was close to my home. My groceries were delivered still frozen and the delivery was within three hours of the order placement.”
“I find the turnaround time impressive given what I feel is a high demand for this service from Plaza and from Island Direct,” Coley said.
Bahou said, “We will let any business into our system, and we invite more restaurants and supermarkets.”
The company is trying to get pharmacies online.
Island Direct delivers to any member who is registered with the company and who requests delivery from anyone who is a partner with the service.
The Island Direct website offers its members a variety of options: restaurants, grocers, retailers, a reference for plumbers, electricians and other service professionals; and a connection to couriers to run errands.
Smoke STX BBQ and Catering Restaurant on Strand Street in downtown Frederiksted originally served a full menu of mainly takeout orders. The restaurant joined Island Direct several months ago. Owner/Chef Joe Smith and chef Rebecca Lewis both love the exposure the delivery partnership gives. It definitely benefits the restaurant, Lewis said.
“We appreciate the growth of our customer base due to our association with Island Direct,” Smith said.
Island Direct added service to Nassau in the Bahamas in 2019.
In the first hour of the Nassau coronavirus curfew, the company generated more revenue than it had in the entire previous month. In the second hour, more revenue was generated than the previous year, Bahou said.
“The supermarkets in Nassau allow us to send in our own pickers – personal shoppers. All of the supermarkets in the Virgin Islands do their own picking. We have the ability to put items on the belt quicker than the scanner,” he said.
In late spring or early summer of 2020, the company will put out its own services platform – a member can order a service online and make contact within an hour.
“Our plan is to develop an emergency system – fire, police, ambulance – an App Alert. I could deliver a burger faster than an emergency system could,” Bahou said.
Island Direct welcomes new drivers to the company. Potential drivers are required to complete a background check and driving record check, obtained at the local police station records bureau. Holders of a non-expired military ID, TWIC card or a current member of the Police Department will not need to submit a background check.
Some of Island Direct drivers are employed in different areas of government and they moonlight to augment their salaries. Teachers drive for the company during their summer vacation.
“On St. Croix and St. Thomas, we employ 200 drivers and dispatchers,” Bahou said. “We have opened up free delivery within the first three miles, just on the volume that the company is producing. The more volume I get, the cheaper the rates. I make money from the retailer, not the consumer,” he added.
Bahou said Island Direct advocates for consumers.
“You must treat my customer right,” he said. “We also act as a buffer for the restaurant. It works both ways. We are a technology company that connects people.”
It’s been a substantially booming business, Bahou said.
“It’s so intense,” he said.
Lewis became a member of the service during the early days of STX Delivery. She lives on the west end and had no vehicle at the time.
“I would long for a pizza from Un Amore at Five Corners in Christiansted and STX Delivery would do my bidding. They’re courteous and they deliver in a timely manner. If there’s an issue, they call or text you,” Lewis said.
Lewis added that she is fortunate to be employed at this time of the global coronavirus crisis and to have the option of Island Direct when she comes home tired.
“I think it’s a great service. It gives me peace of mind. I avoid the hustle and bustle, and it’s just nice to have someone shop for me when I don’t have to shop for myself,” she said.
Although Lewis now has her own vehicle, she continues her connection with the service.
“When I don’t feel like cooking, the service provides more accessibility to restaurants in the east and I can leave the driving to Island Direct. Of course, there’s a fee and a tip, but it’s all worth it, and I’m worth it,” she added.
In late summer or early fall of this year, Island Direct plans to partner with Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Bahou projects that Island Direct will have its footprint on most of the islands in the Caribbean by the end of 2020.