Culinary Ladies of the Eighties: Jackie Davies

Austin entrepreneur was national restaurant delivery pioneer

courtesy of Jackie Davies
Growing up in Detroit in the Fifties and Sixties, Jackie Davies spent a lot of time around the restaurants and bakery delivery business run by her father. You might say the food service business was in her blood.

However, she initially pursued a different career path after graduation from the University of Michigan, going into business and merchandising. After a short stint as a clothing buyer for Neiman Marcus in Dallas, Jackie moved to Austin in 1970. She found the city much more in line with her philosophy of life and her politics. “The vibe was a lot like Ann Arbor, a liberal college town with an educated population, but better weather,” she recalls, laughing. Eventually she became the buyer for a chain of boutique clothing stores for women, a job that sometimes had her traveling around the state a few days a week. Being on the road for work often meant coming home too tired to even think about getting a meal on the table. “At that point, pizza was about all you could get delivered, and I began to wonder if people like myself might be in the market for a service that delivered restaurant meals directly to your home or office,” Jackie explains. She began working on a business plan modeled around herself as customer number one.

The first person Jackie went to for advice about her new business idea was her dad, Jack Cochran. “My dad has the best business mind I know, and with all his years in the restaurant and bakery delivery businesses, he was a good sounding board and gave me lots of good advice,” she says. In 1986, Jackie began putting together what would be the first successful multiple restaurant delivery service in the country. She knew she wanted her company to offer food from a variety of local restaurants, so she went looking for fine dining, barbecue, Mexican, Chinese, Asian, Italian, Southern, and American comfort food menus to appeal to a broad section of Austin diners. “The first chef I approached was Gert Rausch, who at that point had Austin's Courtyard (1205 N. Lamar). Once Gert was in, that gave me some credibility and recruiting other restaurateurs was easier,” she recalls. Soon, Jackie had signed up Chuy's, Chinatown, and the County Line, among others, and those three remain Eat Out In stalwarts nearly 30 years later.

She negotiated delivery prices with the restaurants and had menu booklets printed, established a call center in Northwest Hills, and hired some delivery drivers. Eat Out In began taking orders in 1986 and has dominated the restaurant delivery business in Austin ever since. Jackie Davies is also widely acknowledged to be the founding matriarch of the restaurant delivery industry nationally. “In the beginning, my long-range plan was to become the next food service franchise success story, the next McDonald's. I sank all my money into the company and I was going to take this thing national. Then I found out I was pregnant at 40,” Jackie says, recalling the shock she felt after years of being convinced she couldn't conceive. “Once Kelly came along, I had to rethink my plans,” Jackie says, adding that as a self-employed mom, at least she was able to have her daughter around the office. That baby girl who changed Jackie's life grew up to be a champion barrel racer and, after eight years at Texas A&M, Kelly Davies is now embarking on a career as an equine veterinarian.

Over the years, some of the restaurants represented by Eat Out In have dropped out of the lineup or closed altogether and other delivery businesses have come along to try and carve out a slice of Jackie's local market domination. However, her business acumen, respectful relationships with restaurants, and excellent service model have always triumphed. When queried about the biggest changes she's seen over the years, Jackie says all the advances in technology have streamlined the business and made it much more efficient. “In the early days, we had to take phone orders on paper and then call them in to the restaurants. This was before fax machines were common, and we had these big, bulky two-way radios to stay in touch with drivers. Of course, now, ordering can be done online and everything can be submitted electronically, and we can track order delivery with GPS,” Jackie explains.

Austin has grown and changed dramatically during Eat Out In's nearly 30-year life span and the clientele has evolved along with it. Meals delivered to businesses now represent a big slice of the pie.“We did a huge business with the dot-com companies at one point, and we've always had been popular with drug company salespeople who'll order lunches for nurses and office staffers so they can pitch to the doctors,” Jackie recounts. When the economy faltered in 2008, Jackie was prepared to take a hit, but instead, an unexpected expansion opportunity came her way. The biggest restaurant delivery firm in San Antonio closed abruptly and restaurateurs from the Alamo City approached Jackie about expanding into that market. “My dad had always told me to save money for lean times because they could present business opportunities, and it turned out he was right,” she says. So in 2009, when no one was opening new businesses or expanding existing ones, Eat Out In took on delivery in San Antonio and made a success of it.

These days, when Amazon, Google, Favor, GrubHub, and Table Eats all offer food delivery, Eat Out In is one of the top five food delivery businesses in the country, with over a million clients served annually and yearly sales somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 million dollars. Just when Jackie was contemplating how she would compete with the much better funded national players with access to more sophisticated software platforms, someone came along with a buyout offer she couldn't refuse. “Ken Fischer is a young guy who heads up a company from Southern California called They saw how hot the Texas market was and wanted in. Rather than start from scratch, they came to see me. I threw out a number and we made a deal,” she told us last week.

Jackie Davies sold Eat Out In to LAbite a few weeks ago. They are doing business as Eat Out In with much of her longtime staff still in place and looking to expand into other Texas cities beyond Austin and San Antonio. Although she won't disclose the sale price, Jackie will say that it will make it possible for her to maintain the lifestyle to which she is accustomed in retirement. “I'm 67 and I've been working since I was 13. I don't play golf, or hunt, or fish; my work and my daughter and community service have always been my focus, so I'm not sure yet what retirement is going to look like. I do know I'm taking a trip to Europe with my daughter this summer,” she says with joy.

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Jackie Davies, Eat Out In, Chuy's, County Line, Chinatown, Ken Fischer,, Kelly Davies

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