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The start-up making dinner healthy, fast and cheap

The startup making healthy meals on demand

Like many working professionals, Alan Clifford and Ian Costello once relied heavily on takeout food.

The two were early hires at daily deal site LivingSocial, working long days and finding themselves without time to cook healthy meals.

"We were working crazy hours and every night eating pizza or Thai food or Chinese because that was all that was convenient," Clifford said. "We were putting on weight because we didn't have time to exercise."

Luni Libes, Flegde founder (right), talks with Brian Howe, CEO of Impact Hub Seattle.
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They realized getting a quick and healthy meal shouldn't be difficult or expensive. And like that, the duo dreamed up Galley, based in Washington, D.C., which cooks and delivers fresh, healthy meals within 30 minutes for under $14, inclusive of tax, tip and delivery.

"The basis for the company was us looking for a solution to our own problem: How do you make a nutritious, healthy meal ridiculously convenient?" Clifford said.

Answer: Make it cheap, easy and under 800 calories.

The founders of Galley: Alan Clifford and Ian Costello
Kate Rogers | CNBC

When the company launched in January of this year, Clifford and Costello were cooking and delivering every meal. They also only offered dinner, which is still their most popular item, but have since expanded to lunch options and are seeing that grow more quickly than dinner did, Clifford said.

Today they service most of the Washington, D.C., area, along with Bethesda and Baltimore, Maryland. A staff of more than 70 people between part-time and full-time workers now prepare and deliver hundreds of healthy meals each day from their new D.C. kitchen. The menu is seasonal, and Galley sources as much as it can locally. They are only open weekdays, but the company is now considering expanding both its offerings and service locations.

Customers can order online or via app and choose from lunch or dinner options, and within a 30-minute window or on-demand, it will be delivered. The meals often have a final step, such as pouring a sauce or dressing and heating up before eating. The result is a more ready-to-eat meal than competitors like Blue Apron, which require cooking, Clifford said. The start-up has amassed a loyal following, with many repeat customers, the founders say.

"It has the consistency of a home-cooked meal without doing any of the shopping or cutting; it's ready to eat in 10 minutes or less," Clifford said. "Once people try the food, they largely get hooked. Our average customer is ordering many times throughout the month."

Most of the cooking staff is fine-dining trained, finding the hours to be more favorable and the environment lower stress, Clifford said.

And unlike traditional restaurants, which are inherently risky and can be challenging to get off the ground, Clifford said they've experienced double-digit growth each month since launching, even during the summer, when restaurants experience a slowdown. The founders have not disclosed funding information.

"The key difference is that we operate without a lot of the constraints that you see in a restaurant — the costs there are higher because you have a physical property and a real estate that people are coming to," Costello said.

He added: "The geographical area you can serve is much more limited, because you're not going to drive miles and miles across the city. We can serve the entire city every day; you win on both sides."

With lunch and dinner seeing solid growth, there's only one question: Is breakfast next?

"The goal is that whenever people think about food, we want them to think about Galley — breakfast, lunch or dinner. Whether it's late or early in the day, we want them to be able to get a Galley meal," Costello said.