DANVILLE — Every few days, Don Bedard wakes up bright and early to tee off at a local golf course such as Las Positas. By the end of the year, he plans to take a vacation to Hawaii with his wife, Gretchen.
Life is good for the 72-year-old Danville resident. But this is not his blueprint for his retirement. Right now, Bedard has no plans to stop working.
Owner of multi-restaurant delivery service Takeout Taxi, Bedard believes staying busy keeps his life meaningful.
"I really enjoy the satisfaction of getting up and going to work to try and achieve something," Bedard said. "Right now, I'm physically and emotionally energized, so I will probably never be retired."
On the surface, this business model seems quite simple. Pick up lunches and dinners from local restaurants and deliver them along the I-680 corridor between Martinez and Livermore and Highway 24 east of the Caldecott Tunnel. About 60 percent of the deliveries are to businesses.
Underneath the surface, the business is much more complicated than delivering food.
"We get restaurants that think, 'Why do we need Takeout Taxi to deliver the food?'" Bedard said. "But when they try it, they realize that it's very complicated."
The hard part of the business is to make sure the customer is happy, and everything is done just right. If there's a complaint or a problem with the order, it's Bedard that fields the grief.
"Great customer service is what this is all about," he said.
The delivery service costs $10.95 with a minimum order of $18. On a good week, about 125 orders are delivered by his 11 drivers that are paid off commission and tips.
Revenue for his business in 2009 was about $500,000. During the best of times, several years ago, the business brought in about $2 million.
On the restaurant side, Bedard tries to build his client list by making the opportunity easy.
"All we ask the restaurants to do is cook the food, and we'll take care of the rest," Bedard said.
Takeout Taxi has built a relationship with 29 restaurants around the Bay Area. There are chains such as Chili's, Claim Jumper, and Wing Stop as well as independent restaurants such as Patrick David's, Miraku and Kilohana Grill.
First opened out of San Ramon by Bedard in 1994 with his business partner Steve Jaspan, Takeout Taxi was originally a franchise before becoming a cooperative in 2001. In 1997 Jaspan died unexpectedly, but still Bedard wasn't ready to become anything more than a silent owner. Jaspan's widow took over until Bedard bought her out in 2002 and his son took over.
Finally, in 2006, with the company going through some struggles, Bedard decided it was time to take charge and right the ship himself. This challenge fell in lock-step with Bedard's expertise, as his prior job was as a "manufacturing doctor" going into a struggling business to try to fix it.
Building a system where every detail is thought out is a major key to business success, he said.
"Usually when something goes wrong, it's not a person problem but a process problem," he said.
An example of a process error is that when customers order Salmon salads from one restaurant, the delivery would often be just the fish. The cooks would read the orders and skip over the salad part. So to remedy the process, when the item is now placed it's ordered as "Salad Salmon" so the restaurant knows immediately what the customer wants.
Occasionally, Bedard will make a delivery himself, but most of his time is building relationships with both the customers and restaurants. If a major mistake is made, he'll often go to the business himself with an apology and brownie bites.
He'll also bring plates, cups and condiments to some of his loyal customers to assure their happiness.
The Registry of Physician Specialists in Walnut Creek uses Takeout Taxi between three to five days a week. Each time, as many as 20 entrees are delivered. Being able to have lunches delivered to them and not having to go out is a big benefit of the service, said Derek Bunnell, an invoice coordinator.
"We use Takeout Taxi all the time, and it's a rarity that something is ever messed up," Bunnell said. "And if they make a mistake, they'll never make it twice."
Bedard has also installed a state-of-the-art computer system. Not only does it give details of his 10,000 customers in the database, but it also provides information to determine which marketing tools work best for him. He can quickly determine if most of his customers are coming from direct mail, the Internet or word-of-mouth.
If a customer hasn't used him in awhile, he can send out discount coupons to try to rekindle interest.
"You need to constantly evolve your business and make it better, because we all know the world is changing," he said. "Anybody who keeps their company static is going to have their lunch eaten at some point."
Bedard doesn't know how much longer he will run Takeout Taxi, but there's still a lot to do. Once he gets the Danville operation running at a level he's satisfied with, he hopes to open a second location in Brentwood.
"As long as I'm still creating and growing the business, I'll continue to do it," he said. "This is what I like to do."
Contact David Morrill at 925-977-8534.