NEWARK, NJ — Considering the appearance of coffee bars, ping pong tables and cafeterias featuring multinational cuisine in offices over the past decade, it would be fair to argue that companies are going to great lengths (and paying top dollar) to keep their employees in the building.
Instead, Don Katz, founder and executive chairman of Audible, has invested about $500,000 since 2017 to send his employees out into the streets of downtown Newark for lunch.
“I would love in the future for Audible to not have such nice food services,” Katz said.
Seated at a table with Mayor Ras Baraka, Newark Alliance leadership and Audible staff, Katz celebrated Audible’s “Lunch Out Wednesday” program’s 30,000th visit to a local restaurant. Katz and the team chose Fresh Coast on Raymond Boulevard, one of 22 establishments Audible employees can pick from every week to spend their $15 company meal voucher.
Luis Valls-Amaible, co-owner of Fresh Coast, estimates that the program brings in an additional 200 customers a month and $3,000 in sales.
“Lunch Out” is part of the company’s community engagement strategy and sees a 90% employee participation rate, according to Audible. Unlike in decades past, when corporations in Newark created bypasses away from street-level retail, Audible and the city are making strides to redirect history and foot traffic.
“We believe it’s had multiple x impact on the local economy in that it makes our employees excited to go into more restaurants not only on Wednesdays but every day of the week,” Katz said.
Given the popularity of the Lunch Out program, Audible is extending the vouchers to an “After Hours Thursdays” and “Coffee Fridays.”
“At the end of the day, to export [corporate cafeterias] to the streets helps the city tremendously,” Baraka said. “After the rebellion of ‘67, we have that bridge that’s above Gateway that connects Gateway to the stadium. These companies began to build things so people could walk above the city and not in the city. They gave them everything they needed, and the people would spend money in the little enclave and then disappear, which affected our economy desperately.”
Katz is also the founder of Newark Venture Partners, a $45 million venture fund and accelerator that attracts start-ups to nurture the city’s economic development.
From the get-go, Katz fostered relationships with local leaders to understand the Newark community and its needs. Audible also offers jobs and training programs to local residents, paid internships and college scholarships to Newark students and incentives for employees to live and shop locally.
“When [Baraka, Newark Alliance President and CEO Aisha Glover and I] first met, we realized that we had to be sensitive to all the elements in the community, but they also understood that we had to kind of inject the opportunity for wealth creation,” Katz said.
"I want to commend Don Katz and the folks at Audible for their creativity and support of local businesses," said North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. "It's great to see a corporate partner incentivize their employees to venture outside the workplace and enjoy the venues within our city. It's a sure boost to the local economy."
Restaurants interested in collaborating with Audible can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.