Once a week, Audible gives $15 to hundreds of employees for them to invest in Newark restaurants for Lunch Out Wednesdays, an initiative in the company’s community investment strategy that has pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the city’s economy.
The initiative hit its 30,000th meal March 4 at Fresh Coast, a fast casual restaurant serving salads, smoothies, grain bowls and poke, where Audible Founder and Executive Chairman Don Katz, Mayor Ras Baraka and Newark Alliance Chief Executive Officer Aisha Glover joined employees for lunch to celebrate.
Fresh Coast’s owner Luis Valls-Amaible credits the initiative for bringing in an additional 200 people monthly, and creating an extra $3,000 per month in sales.
“Multiply the Lunch Out Wednesday profits by word of mouth from Audible employees and employees who come in at other days and times,” he says, “and it’s really made a huge difference.”
Of the celebration, the real audience, Katz said, is other CEOs: To get them to invest in the local economy, as well.
“We’ve spent close to half a million dollars over the last three years, and we believe it’s had multiple x impact on the economy by getting our employees excited to go to local restaurants not only on Wednesday, but they’re more likely to come back to restaurants every other day of the week,” said Vice President, Public Policy & Community Affairs Colin Newman. “We think it’s a great value proposition for other companies to have major impact well beyond that actual cost of the program.”
“There’s very creative, thoughtful, compassionate CEOs in this city, it’s just there’s layers of people who kind of were assigned to deal with what their organization does for social responsibility,” Katz said. “What I do is talk business to business, ‘look, here’s the flywheel method, here’s the character of our overall food budget, here’s how we create a equitable way to reinvest the money.'”
According to Glover, Newark is small enough, and the CEOs are connected to each other and the mayor in a way that “there’s a little more accountability institution to institution.” They regularly convene and connect, and because the ecosystem is small, “everybody else kind of wants to step up eventually.”
‘Your job is to go support the local economy’
Due to the success of the initiative – 90 percent of Audible employees participate – the company has extended the program to After Hours Thursdays and Coffee Fridays, for which employees get an additional $15 per week to stimulate business and bring additional foot traffic to restaurants, taverns and coffee shops.
“It keeps businesses open, and also when businesses open, it encourages other businesses to open in that area as well, so it’s a good thing,” Baraka said.
Supporting the local economy is “part of what comes with being a successful company,” Katz said, and getting people out in the community in Newark, out of their offices and breezeways, is part of that.
“I would love in the future of Audible not to have such nice food services,” Katz said. “To Bloomberg’s credit, he built his new London headquarters, there is no cafeteria. He said, ‘Your job is to go support the local economy.'”
Participating Lunch Out Wednesdays restaurants include: Barcade, Bulgogi Zip, Burger Walla, Dinosaur BBQ, Fukurow, Fresh Coast, Halal Guys, Harvest Table, JBJ Soul Kitchen, Kilkenny Alehouse, La Cocina, Marcus B&P, Masala café, McGovern’s Tavern, Mercato Tomato Pie, Nico Kitchen + Bar, Noodle Bar & Shop, Novelty Burger, Playa Bowls, Ramen Gami, Robert’s Pizza and Sigri Indian BBQ
Participating After Hours Thursdays establishments include: Barcade, Dinosaur BBQ, Kilkenny Alehouse, Marcus B&P and McGovern’s Tavern
Participating Coffee Friday shops include: Black Swan Espresso, Harvest Table, Intrinsic Café, Starbucks Broad Street and Sweetwaters Coffee.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story indicated that Prudential also takes part in Lunch Out Wednesday; the company does not currently offer that program, but does take part in Audible’s Live Local program. The story was updated at 12:07 p.m. EST on March 5, 2020.