Q&A With Wake & Late Founders Alex Sauciuc & John Shoemaker
Los Angeles is a great food city, but sometimes it’s hard to find good eats at either really early in the morning or late-night bites — until now. Wake & Late opened in Downtown Los Angeles with the goal of providing affordable, healthy and delicious options at both of those times at their first brick and mortar location on 6th Street as well as through a delivery service in DTLA and at USC.
Founders Alex Sauciuc, Ben Richter, and John Shoemaker began the concept while attending Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and have now brought it to LA to serve up delicious breakfast, dinner bowls, late night treats, coffee, and smoothies to Angelenos. I’ve had the Rico Suave breakfast burrito and it totally fueled my entire day with its combo of eggs, tots, bacon, avocado, cheddar & cotija cheese. So good! The Breakfast Pesto Bowl is another yummy option with sautéed spinach and asparagus served over farro with an over-medium egg. Yum!
I recently sat down with Alex and John to talk more about Wake & Late, how they came up with the concept, and where they see it going next.
How did the three of you meet?
John: We actually all went to school together in undergrad at Duke. Alex is a year older than us, but we’ve been like that through classes and also we were just friends. Then Alex and I met through classes and just different social groups and things like that.
How did Duke and that college atmosphere that inspired your first delivery service?
John: We were literally sitting in a dorm room one night and it was 2 AM and we called Domino’s and they were like, “The wait is going to be an hour and a half.” We said, “Okay, you know what? There’s got to be a better option that can get food to students quicker, more conveniently, and better food; a better food option.” We partnered with a couple on-campus eateries, hired student delivery drivers, and basically ran a delivery service; a runner service, from these on-campus eateries to student’s dorm rooms, the library, the gym, K-ville at Duke [tenting for basketball games]. We started developing the idea from there and we had a huge response from it and that there should be a better option than just pizza past 10 PM. That’s how the idea generated over time.
Why bring Wake & Late to Los Angeles?
John: No. 1 we looked at that market and we saw that. Ben worked with our partners from LA. He’s lived here his whole life, he’s gone out here his whole life, he’s worked here, he’s got older friends here. He knows a lot of people at the colleges here. He had a pretty good idea about the market. We were looking for somewhere that was not only concentrated but also had reasonable real estate pricing. To open up our first shop, we wanted to stay pretty lean and not break the bank on real estate, but also provide a solid kitchen and front house to represent our brand and be able to generate the orders we are hoping to do. Also, the weather is just gorgeous. It’s a fun place to live.
Alex: Duke undergrad is around 6,500 to 6,800, so it’s not super small, but it’s also not massive. Whereas USC is similar to Duke with similar demographic of international students that the social scenes are similar, yet you’ve got three times the amount of undergrad — around 18,000. It just kind of made sense when you add that all together. The delivery is catered more towards college campuses. We really wanted to go to a place where it made sense and it was, somewhat, similar to where we could see there was success.
How has USC and UCLA embraced you in comparison to Duke?
Alex: We will be starting at USC with the hopes to expand to UCLA probably in the next 6 to 8, maybe even 12 months, looking longer term. Based on some of the conversation we’ve had with different student leaders and really just trying to market it on the ground, so far they’ve been very receptive to it. I think that, similar to Duke, there’s just really a need for a service like this. There’s a mix of excitement, anticipation, a little bit of … I would call it they’re trying to better understand what it is given that there are things like free delivery locations, which are a new thing. It’s a new type of service.
What has the response been like from the Downtown community?
John: The response has been amazing from the community leaders in Downtown LA, influencers, people like that. Everyone’s commented they love the food, love the spot. A lot of response has been that we’ve been looking for a spot like this, we’ve been looking for a healthier option; a healthier fast cash option. We didn’t even really consider front of house to be that big of a part of our model and it’s turned out that this place is pretty bumping on a Friday, Saturday night. It’s had a great response from the community.
It’s also something that we feel like delivery is not only limited to college students. It could be very applicable to JP Morgan’s trading floor or the WeWork building or the courts or the town hall. Whatever that may be where a lot of people are looking for food at hours when they can’t typically get it as conveniently, that’s what we’re trying to address.
Wake & Late offers meals at times when it’s pretty hard to eat out — early morning or late at night. What are some of the challenges that you guys face while doing that?
John: Staffing is one of them. Obviously you need to find great people. We want the brand to be something where you’re excited to go in the morning, get your day off on the right foot, and then a great way to end your night. After you go out, or whenever you’re late in the office, you need a break, you need some kind of food, you need a pleasant interaction with the delivery guy. It’s a lot of vetting and a process to get great people like Dmitri who’s working for us now. Just awesome people who really represent our brand well.
Alex: In Downtown for instance, you have a lot of those niche coffee shops and they have their order. It’s a challenge to get people to come into the door for coffee first. We do feel like our food is very affordable, so you can get their coffee first and then pair that with breakfast.
Then late night side, I think it’s such a new thing to be able to go to a place other than your old school diner to get these types of options. I think part of that is really just continuing to market yourself — they come, have an incredible time after you go out, and keep your night going. It’s a place where you can sit down with your friends. It’s kind of a rare thing to have. We always say we want to have that 21st century diner feel where you have these different options as breakfast, dinner, late night options that are affordable prices but in a different sort of atmosphere with a leaner menu.
What are some of your favorite things on the menu and also what are some of the most popular items on the menu so far?
John: The Veg Out Bowl is farro-based, sauteed vegetables, egg base and you’re able to pick a protein. You’re able to pair that with this farro, with these veggies and then it comes together as a great breakfast bowl or a great late night option. We’re really trying to stay lean in the dish sense. You could eat it after a workout or you could eat it to end your night after going out and feel great about it either way.
Alex: For me personally, I’m a huge fan of — from the breakfast menu — the egg white Avo and the Breakfast Bowl. Both healthier options but full flavor, keep you full, and obviously a great start to your day. On the dinner side, I would say the spicy cauliflower bowl is my favorite personally. I’m a big spicy food fan and it’s got a really good zing to it. It just really pairs well with our chicken, so it’s one of those options where you eat and you feel good, you feel full. It’s a great, as he was saying, whether it’s for dinner, post work out, could be something late night where you’re up late working, or studying. I do feel like it caters to different people’s needs in that regard as well which is great.
Photos courtesy of Wake & Late