How to Start a Bike-Based Business

Bicycles and good food can be found rolling hand in hand everywhere you look, and that’s why Elizabeth Callahan decided to leave her comfortable office job to bring the two a little closer together with Lilly’s Lunches.

Bicycles and good food can be found rolling hand in hand everywhere you look, and that’s why Elizabeth Callahan decided to leave her comfortable office job to bring the two a little closer together.

Lilly’s Lunches started up less than a year ago, but Callahan’s adorable deli bike is now a commonplace sight, weaving through Toronto, ON, city traffic to deliver homemade lunches to downtown businesses. Callahan explained, “I had always wanted to start a local business, and my love for food tied in perfectly with the idea of bringing office-bound people lunch.”

Trading her photocopier for an industrial oven, Callahan funded the development of Lilly’s Lunches with her personal savings and collaborated with a diverse network of friends to launch her business. After a successful opening party, Callahan started with 20 customers to serve during her first week. As word of her rolling start-up began to appear in local newspapers, and after a key mention on a popular radio show, her business exploded. By early summer, Lilly’s Lunches was making up to 120 brown paper bag deliveries a day, each filled with a homemade sandwich, a lovely salad, a hand-baked dessert, and a tiny love note. Best of all, Callahan made every delivery by bike.

Wanting a reliable and distinctive delivery vehicle, Callahan selected a Pashley Delibike, customized by some notable Toronto talents. Industrial design firm Fugitive Glue built Callahan’s sandwich box, and illustrator Jimmy Mezei wrapped the bike in Lilly’s Lunches graphics.

With business booming, Callahan moved to a commercial kitchen in Kensington Market where she could source local produce, deli meat and bread. She starts each day with a shopping trip through the market before assembling a menu from secret family recipes and sandwiches inspired by her friends. The Steve, consisting of roast beef, sprouts, havarti, and sweet tomato butter piled on marble rye, was a summer hit.

Running a business by bike means Callahan needs to prepare for whatever weather conditions that day presents. Through rain, wind, and hail, Callahan delivers lunches five days a week. Sound advice from a couple of Toronto’s seasoned bicycle messengers led her to buy quality rain gear and learn how to brave the wet streets.

Callahan is taking great interest in customizing her menu for special event catering and sees her future business serving large picnics, weddings and gallery openings. She hired a helping hand during her busiest weeks, but operates the business solo.

Over the winter, Lilly’s Lunches moved from making daily deliveries to focusing on special event catering. Callahan plans to expand her bicycle delivery fleet this summer to help meet the growing demand. She attributes her success to combining her two favorite pastimes: cycling and homemade food. “Whether I was delivering to a law office or coffee shop, everyone was excited to eat something new and bring a little change into their lunch routine.”

3 Tips for Starting a Bicycle-Based Business

By Elizabeth Callahan

1. Make sure you have the right bike for the job; I had to design a custom carrier to hold all the lunches.

2. Invest in lovely looking rain gear.

3. Be sure to bring treats to your local bike shop!

lillyslunches.com

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