Vinay Menda and Issam Freiha are two coffee-obsessed friends from Dubai and Lebanon, respectively, who moved to New York to study at NYU and Columbia and immediately began researching the city’s coffee scene.
They noticed a coffee shop on every corner in the United States, but found the experience to be slow and overpriced: the shops were either destination locations or for purchasing coffee to brew at home, rather than a quality “grab and go” operation, Freiha explained. They noticed their friends frequenting various chain coffee shops for convenience or price, but they couldn’t afford daily $6 cappuccinos as college students.
They co-founded Reshape, a venture capital fund with $100 million in assets under management, shortly after graduating. They observed the success of Asia’s high-growth, mobile-first food retail businesses and saw an opportunity to replicate the street vending experience in the United States.
“There were a lot of cool businesses coming out of Asia that focused on efficiency in real estate, which enables you to save money on rent and encourage customers to order ahead,” Menda told TechCrunch.
The pair, who have been working together for about seven years, founded Blank Street in May 2020 and launched their first mobile coffee cart in Williamsburg three months later in partnership with EV Foods at the Wythe Diner.
Their goal was to reduce their business’s real estate footprint to make location control easier, to enable them to have multiple locations in one neighbourhood rather than just one, and to save money to invest in other areas, such as product price reductions. They enhanced the consumer ordering experience with technology while also focusing on quality, speed, and convenience.