Idling vans from new meal delivery service raise concerns in Montclair

Montclair is now among 70 New Jersey municipalities where residents can order from Wonder, a new meal delivery service.

The rapidly expanding startup partners with nationally known restaurants to deliver replicas of their signature meals to customers’ doorsteps via supersized gray vans with purple lettering. The food is prepared at an offsite facility in Cranford and finished by the driver/cook in the van’s kitchen outside the customer’s home.

Montclair customers who tried the service were generally enthusiastic, according to comments on a community Facebook thread, but some expressed concern about the environmental and health impact of the Mercedes sprinter vans idling outside homes.

Suzanne Farkas said she often sees Wonder trucks double-parked, engines idling, for long periods of time in her Sunset Park neighborhood. What’s most annoying, she said, is the driver is “killing time before gigs, sitting on a park bench or asleep in the front seat with the engine running. You can smell the fumes,” she said.

Wonder, a restaurant delivery service founded by entreprenuer Marc Lore, has been rolled out in 20 New Jersey towns.
Wonder, a restaurant delivery service founded by entreprenuer Marc Lore, has been rolled out in 20 New Jersey towns.

Though New Jersey law prohibits idling for longer than 3 minutes, it doesn’t apply to vehicles whose engines are also used to refrigerate food.

Wonder officials said they’re doing their best to be environmentally responsible by using hybrid vehicles, with batteries in the mobile kitchens, and working with electric vehicle manufacturers to come up with a prototype for an all-electric fleet.

“We do 100% carbon offsets, our commissary in Cranford is LEED-certified, and we donate excess food to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey,” said Andrew Gasper, chief governance officer at Wonder. “We are aware of the environmental  concerns and are addressing them.”

Concerns about the double-parked vans on Main Street in West Orange led the township to pass an ordinance that allows drivers to park at the lot at the former Mayfair Farms on Eagle Rock Avenue.

Another worry is that Wonder will take business away from local restaurants. Anticipating that, Wonder executives have rolled out a new restaurant delivery service called Delivery By Wonder, which, they say, costs eateries less than DoorDash and GrubHub.

Jason Gleason, director of the Montclair Business Improvement District, which includes nearly 100 restaurants, said that an informal poll of restaurant owners showed some concern, but mostly a wait-and-see attitude. “It’s too early to tell if Wonder would cannibalize our local eateries, and if so which sector would be affected,” he said.

“Traditional sit-down restaurants would probably not be affected, since people go for the experience of eating out, and the fancier restaurants are not the type customers order out from,” he said. “And I’m hard-pressed to imagine an oven affixed to the back of a sprinter van coming anywhere near Teglia’s wood-fired pizza.”

Restaurant owners he spoke with were more concerned about the fumes than the competition, he said.

“We’re an environmentally-conscious town; it’s ironic that we have a strong leaf-blower law and these trucks just idling everywhere.”

Wonder was launched last year by New Jersey resident Marc Lore, former CEO of Walmart. Customers can order specialties on the Wonder app from 17 national restaurant chains, such as Bobby Flay steak or Mexican from Phoenix’s Barrio Cafe.

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“Your order is fired, finished, and plated just steps away from your door, then served as soon as it’s ready,” reads the copy on the Wonder website. “Your fries are crispy, your steak is juicy, and your pizza is hot: just the way they should be.”

Juicy steaks aside, Farkas said she’s surprised there hasn’t been more pushback in a town that worked hard to enforce idling bans in front of schools and pass a stringent leaf-blower law.

“If I hired them and didn’t see the truck, I’d be very enthusiastic too. But people should know what they’re choosing and how it affects their neighbor who is walking by with their dogs and their kids playing in front of their homes," Farkas said. "I hope people have an awareness so they can choose.”

This article originally appeared on New meal service in Montclair NJ raises concerns