A local startup that operates high-end vending machines has decided to call it quits in the face of rising food prices and other factors.
ELYA (which stands for Eat Like Your Ancestors) is in the process of winding down its operations and plans to shutter entirely by late June. Owner Danny Sterling said Tuesday he will begin to remove the company’s refrigerated vending machines from their locations around town this week.
The company launched in the fall of 2020, initially selling its quick-serve, ready-to-eat meals out of its refrigerated vending machines, which are accessed by customers with a credit card swipe.
The company’s closure comes shortly after ELYA’s run-in with the state health department over its original service model, which caused it to pivot to delivery of its quick-serve meals while using the fridges to sell third-party packaged food items.
Sterling said a variety of factors contributed to the decision to end operations, among them the rising cost of food and inability to find a suitably priced new and larger space for its headquarters as the company nears the end of its lease at 7 E. Third St., which wraps up in early 2023.
Sterling said the company is profitable but felt demand wasn’t strong enough for the company’s line of health-minded, quick-serve meals to justify continuing.
“The pivot was good but it wasn’t super helpful and then obviously with price increases our margins were starting to get squeezed,” Sterling said. “It felt like a good time to quit while we’re ahead.”
Sterling said potential buyers had approached him about an acquisition in recent weeks but they have since backed off. He plans to sell all five of his refrigerated vending machines. The machines have been located at The Ella apartment complex near Scott’s Addition, at The Locks Tower apartments downtown, at 3121 W. Leigh St. in Scott’s Addition and the company’s Manchester headquarters.
Another challenge, Sterling said, was being a sole proprietor of a startup facing its share of challenges.
“I have great people in my network who are supportive, but it is very different than someone with skin in the game beside you every day and can make up for your faults,” he said.
Looking forward, Sterling said he planned to embark on a new entrepreneurial venture, not necessarily in the food sector, after taking some time off for himself.
“In the long term there are a couple things on the table. It’s really hard for me to stop. It would be hard to go out and get another job. I’ll always want to be an entrepreneur or in a startup,” he said.