With her trademark dreadlocks and beaming smile, Jennie Townsend, a former pastry chef at Sunny Point Cafe, is easy to spot all over Asheville. While you’re kicking back at home she’ll likely be dashing in and out of restaurants picking up delicacies like Chef Steven’s “haus burger,” chorizo tortas from Sonora, or one of Jay’s famous “DoughP” doughnuts for folks who don’t want to leave their cozy homes. While we all know that there are other food delivery services in town for you to choose from, Jennie, an AVL single mom, remains laser-focused on supporting local and making it beneficial to the businesses that we all know and love. Kickback AVL is also the only delivery service that uses only biodegradable cutlery and NO plastic bags...
Having spent 20 years in the food service industry, Jennie’s knowledge of the ins and outs of the food business also gives her a unique and competitive edge. “Knowing how restaurants work, it was important to me that restaurants not lose money whenever they take on delivery,” she stated. “It’s important that everybody makes money in this business.” While other delivery services take out 40% of the sale for each restaurant for delivery, Kickback AVL offers it at 25% and allows restaurants to move any of that into their menu price, especially those that are not as well-established or are food trucks. Kickback AVL also makes it a mission to help local restaurants who struggle for daytime business so they can rely less on visiting tourists who come in for lunch while locals are stuck in the office all day and can’t get out.
So how did this business come to fruition? Do y’all remember Asheville Muchies a few years back? Jennie was a big fan and frequently used their services to feed her son when she was too exhausted or if it was too late to cook. When the owner of the business moved out of state, Jennie waited for a year for another business to take its place. When no one stepped up to the plate, Jennie took the helm and worked on her business plan for Kickback AVL before launching in 2018. While other national food delivery companies flooded Asheville three months before Kickback AVL launched, Jennie didn’t back down and her business has remained competitive and local-centric.
“Once you put money into the local economy, it goes so much further in the community,” adds Jennie. “When somebody shops with Kickback, that money is going to a super-local restaurant who is also locally focused, and its transferred to them, and then transferred to the local farmers, and it’s just this chain of community that’s happening. I feel like it’s a full-circle moving through the community. You’re not putting money into a CEO’s pocket; you’re paying for someone’s child’s ballet lessons. I’m a single mom. When you shop with me, you are supporting local in so many ways, local families, and our whole other charity component.”
Currently Kickback AVL employs between 15-20 drivers locally. While it may be surprising for some, drivers make a higher commission per delivery with Kickback AVL versus larger competitors, and Jennie is adamant that her employees make livable wages. While Kickback’s delivery fee may be a little higher than competitors, it’s so that the business can give back to the community. 30% of the business’s delivery fees go to a local non-profit such as Asheville Cat Weirdos Emergency Fund or BeLoved Asheville. Gift certificates are also given for charity auctions, and Jennie herself volunteers for vendor spots as charities need.
“Community care is so important to me, and it will trump me making a dollar every time. If it’s bad for the community, I’m not gonna do it. I closed New Years Eve, and even though that could have potentially been a busy night for me, I felt like it was worse for our community to have drivers out on the road blocking up what was happening. That for me was a community care decision I made, like, this is not what’s good for the whole right now.”
Jennie is resolute about working exclusively with only local Asheville-area businesses (a list which is ever-growing!), and has even turned down deals with large franchises who wanted to be added to the list of providers Kickback AVL would deliver from. Not only does she deliver food, but also alcohol and CBD products. Eventually she hopes that her business will also be able to deliver groceries and local produce, especially to customers who are homebound. Expansion of the business to the greater Buncombe County area is also on the horizon.
Kickback AVL strives to remain as green as possible as well. While they have no control of the restaurant’s end, all of the cutlery used by Jennie’s business is also sustainable and biodegradable. And, there are no plastic bags! Jennie’s dream is to one day use all electric vehicles in her fleet. For now, Kickback AVL makes it a point to pick up and deliver as many orders at one time on their routes to reduce as many carbon emissions as possible.
“I really don’t think I could’ve started this business and it have lasted a year in any other town. This community, especially our food scene, is so interconnected. It’s really kind of an interdependency, which is neat because they’re all competitors, but they’re all supportive of each other. Having this type of community is so special, and is what I really feel like has allowed me to create this business that competes with the ‘big sharks.’ The people standing behind me are amazing. There are so many people that support me and believe in me. Our food scene is something special here.”
If you want to learn more about Kickback AVL and order some local take-out, be sure to visit their Dig Local profile. Stay tuned to Dig Local to see which local businesses will be teaming up with Jennie for future deliveries!