This big tech company gives employees $15 to buy lunch at local eateries

Posted Mar 04, 2020

As Newark residents outside braved windy, chilly weather Wednesday morning, the feeling inside the Fresh Coast eatery couldn’t have been warmer.

As customers crammed into the warm Raymond Boulevard restaurant, they were greeted by what co-owner Daniela Hoyos described as a cross between Miami and California.

Along one fauna-colored wall, a large neon sign proclaimed “high tides and good vibes.” The bright colors stood out from the walls and furniture, and tiki-style lights hung above the bar where employees assembled made-to-order poke bowls.

Business at Fresh Coast has taken off since it opened its doors three years ago, and Hoyos said a partnership with Audible, the Newark-based entertainment company, is a main reason why.

“Thanks to Audible, we were introduced to lots of new customers,” Hoyos told NJ Advance Media Wednesday.

At about the same time Fresh Coast opened in 2017, Audible had launched a new initiative with its hundreds of employees based in the Newark area which gave them a free $15 food voucher each Wednesday, to be used at local eateries around the city.

This Wednesday, company employees and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka celebrated the company’s 30,000th visit to a local restaurant in conjunction with the program, dubbed “Lunch Out Wednesday.”

“This is so good, this is unbelievable,” Baraka said while eating lunch at the restaurant. “I’m coming back for this all the time.”

Lunch Out has grown to include 22 participating city restaurants. Fresh Coast was one of the first locations to join the program, and quickly became one of the most popular, the company said.

Audible founder and executive chairman Don Katz told reporters the company has spent close to half a million dollars over the last three years subsidizing meal vouchers for its employees. The pay-off, he said, is both community engagement and the growth that comes with more start-up companies moving into the area.

Katz said Audible found 90% of its employees were going out for lunch during the workday, and thought the meal vouchers would be a great way to give back to local retailers.

In 2015, Katz founded Newark Venture Partners, a venture capital fund worth $45 million intended to further the city’s innovation economy.

“If other companies follow suit, they will accelerate the historic changes we’re witnessing here, with new apartments, restaurants and cafes opening weekly,” the executive chairman said.

Some of the restaurants that join the lunch program are already established in the community, but many are fledglings looking to make a name for themselves, according to Katz.

The program has recently grown to offer employees an additional $15 a week, which they can use for “After Hours Thursdays” and “Coffee Fridays."

“[The program] gets people to want to come to the city and stay in the city,” Baraka said.

Hoyos credited much of Fresh Coast’s success to the exposure the restaurant received through the Audible partnership. The employees who came in with meal vouchers told their friends how much they enjoyed the food, or posted about it on social media, she said.

Her business partner, Luis Valls-Amaible, estimated their business serves an additional 200 people a month as a result of the Lunch Out program — earning them an additional $3,000 per month in sales.

Now, just three years after its grand opening, Fresh Coast is preparing to open a second location in Metuchen.

“Audible really helped us get our name out,” Valls-Amaible said. “Multiply the Lunch Out Wednesday profits by word of mouth from Audible employees and employees who come in at other days and times, and it’s really made a huge difference.”

Restaurants interested in working with Audible may contact community@audible.com.

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