Like most restaurant owners across the nation in the past month, Luke and Cassie Brugh have had to think fast to keep their business afloat. They turned their Christiansburg coffee shop into a curbside-only business, with the bulk of their orders coming through an app, to comply with government orders to limit customer contact because of COVID-19.
But in navigating the challenges of this shuffle, the Brughs have discovered a silver lining. Brugh Coffee is selling double the cans of its cold brew java — by drone. That’s compared with cold brew sales through its new curbside business.
These air deliveries are made possible by Wing, a drone delivery enterprise and offshoot of Google’s parent company Alphabet that has seen a dramatic increase in its business since the pandemic began.
Wing recently added Brugh Coffee and other Christiansburg restaurants — Mockingbird Cafe and Gran Rodeo — to its food delivery options.
From March to early April, Wing saw a 350 percent jump in the number of people signing up for its services across its four sites in three continents. They are in Christiansburg; Helsinki, Finland; and two cities in Australia, Canberra and Logan City, said spokesman Jacob Demmitt.
Similarly, in a two-week period in early April, the company had 1,000 deliveries globally, a “dramatic increase” from the typical two-week business model, he said.
In October 2019, Wing launched the commercial drone delivery service in Christiansburg with the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP). MAAP is a test site for unmanned aircraft systems designated by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Through the partnership, Wing also offers drone delivery from Walgreens, FedEx, and Sugar Magnolia, a Blacksburg gift and candy shop, in addition to the newly added businesses. Customers order items via Wing’s app, and the products are delivered quickly, sometimes in as little as three to five minutes to a designated area near the consumer’s home. Hovering in the air, the drone extends the package to the ground, where it lands softly.
“It became clear early on [in the pandemic] that delivery services were becoming more and more important,” said Demmitt, noting that Wing began its partnerships with Brugh Coffee and Mockingbird Cafe at the start of COVID-19. “It came at a time when it was getting harder and harder for them to reach customers.”
Brugh Coffee sells bags of coffee and cold brew for Wing drone delivery, but it hopes to add hot coffee drinks in the future, Luke Brugh said. “This was kind of ideal for us as small business owners,” he said. “It’s been good to have that extra income.”