If you pop the glove box on a Babe Delivery driver’s car, you might find a jar of peanut butter nestled amongst the usual detritus. If you hold it up and say, “I have questions,” the driver might explain how — after one particularly ruinous coffee detour — Babetown founder Alex Koones needs to be armed with snacks on her breakneck delivery route through The Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. The 31-year-old chef came up through kitchens at The NoMad, Jean-Georges, and The Breslin, and in just two years, grew Babetown from a dinner party held at various Brooklyn power lesbians’ apartments to a pop-up tour across the United States. But with a ban on social gatherings stretching on into the foreseeable future, what’s an erstwhile queer supper club hostess to do? Enter Babe Delivery: a quarantine meal delivery service fueled by a massive and meticulously kept spreadsheet of orders, addresses, and delivery windows.
“What I’ve learned from doing these deliveries is how well I know [the city],” Koones shares on my Monday morning ride-along. The New York native speaks with a slight accent, frequently dropping the “R”s from the word “order,” for example. Our chariot for the day is a Chrysler Town and Country minivan, and when I climb into the back, I’m surrounded by bags of plastic takeout containers filled with meals from Babe Delivery’s extensive menu. There’s also a cooler with housemade frozen treats, like Koones’ vegan candied ginger ice cream sandwiches. The decisiveness with which she tosses last-minute items into each order’s bag from memory before dropping it off is both startling and impressive. Delivery routes are plotted by hand and later cross-checked against Google Maps. Each stop that day takes no more than a few minutes, she never messes up an order, and everyone’s food arrives well within their promised two-hour window.
“I will say that you map this out very well,” her driver chimes in. “I think you’ve made one mistake out of, like, 30 deliveries with me.”
The impetus for Babe Delivery came partly out of necessity when Koones found herself saddled with commercial quantities of food after the first Coronavirus-canceled Babetown event. Assembling some large batch, easy-to-transport dishes, she spread the word on Instagram that Babetown was delivering free meals to anyone struggling with food insecurity during quarantine. Then, a strict vegan friend who was working from home and overwhelmed by the prospect of feeding herself with so few vegan takeout options reached out.
“She was like, ‘Could you make me a couple meals for the week? Something that I could eat now or freeze if I wanted, and I’ll pay you,'” Koones explains. “I was like, ‘Oh, sure.’ And I put it up online since I was already doing it, something like, ‘Hey, I’m making some meals and delivering them Saturday. Would anyone else like some?'”
The idea caught like wildfire. Koones quickly scaled and is now making up to 35 deliveries a week, selling out of her self-styled “American Nouveau but make it Jewish” cuisine more than a week in advance. About a third of those deliveries are reserved for donations. Orders are placed through a Google Form linked in Babe Delivery’s Instagram bio, and customers can choose between a vegan menu, a gluten-free menu, a “comfort food” menu, a looser plant-based menu, and an assortment of snacks both sweet and savory. À la carte meals run $10 apiece, but customers can also order a seven-meal or 10-meal plan for the week. An additional edibles menu is slightly more expensive than your run of the mill gummies, but it boasts dishes like infused blueberry waffles, vegan cheesecake, chili, and ramp challah rolls. Profits from the sale of edibles also cover the cost of donated meals, though Koones stresses that she would continue to cover donations out of pocket even if they didn’t.
As for the menu itself, Koones’ pastry work is a standout star. A bite of her pistachio hamantaschen followed by a bite of strawberry rugelach evokes a mega-refined PB&J experience. On the edibles side, the hummus — fragrant with cumin and laced with generous swirls of olive oil — shines. The dosing takes some guesswork, but a tablespoon is the perfect portion for one of the six-inch blue corn tortillas Koones delivers on the side.
All the food is prepped and cooked in her home kitchen, which is admittedly enormous but also accommodates several roommates. She recently tapped a home organizer to help set it up more efficiently (and in a manner that will keep the peace). During one prep session, Koones enlisted Lisa Fernandes, a contestant on this season’s Top Chef: All-Stars and owner of SweetChili in Bushwick, to help with one of her signature dishes: a hatch chile latke. Fernandes later quipped in an Instagram Story that she was “on [her] union break after making a million potato latkes,” accompanied by a photo of the perfectly fried results.
“It’s hard for me to hire someone who’s never made a latke before and have them bang out 100 orders the way I like,” Koones explains, adding that Fernandes — also Jewish and adept at her idiosyncratic culinary style — can.
The one Babe Delivery task Koones realized she couldn’t do alone was both drive a car and leave it idling to do contact-free drop-offs in New York City apartment buildings. But other than delivery drivers and the odd kitchen helper, the business is largely a solo effort. And while there’s definitely a part of Koones that thrives in solitude, it’s also difficult to be the sole person fielding 100 percent of a spontaneous, disaster-necessitated, one-woman operation. But Koones welcomes the challenge because she is truly passionate about what she does. In a time of such uncertainty, Koones has found a way to keep Babetown in business, keep the community fed, and keep being the culinary badass she is.