For Tony Liu and Jasmine Ren, it all started with the death of a friend.
In early 2015, one of their friends was on his way to pick up some alcohol for a party when he was killed in an accident by a drunk driver. Thus, GRN Pals was born, a delivery service for food, alcohol and tobacco, to reduce the risk involved with mid-party supplies runs.
“… We wanted to take an further step into protecting kids like ourselves, because, you know, college kids (are) also trying to party, and we wanted to create a system that could help us party in a safe manner without getting hit or getting killed,” Liu said.
The Syracuse graduate said he researched similar delivery companies, like GrubHub. However, he hoped to add alcohol and tobacco to the offered products to eliminate the need for trips to the store for these products after one’s food is delivered.
The company was formed back in the spring semester. Liu is mainly in charge of marketing the business. The team consists of about five members at the moment. Ren, a sophomore majoring in art and design, said the idea came to her after the loss of her friend.
“I came up with the idea that we can (deliver) alcohol to apartments (and) to school so … people don’t have to go outside and drive under the influence,” she said.
Drunk driving is not an uncommon occurrence. In 2014, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement made 4006 arrests for driving under the influence in Hillsborough County. The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 29.1 million people admitted they drove while under the influence.
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), “(the) rate of drunk driving is highest among 21 to 25 year olds,” at 23.4 percent. MADD also reported “Every day in America, another 28 people die as a result of drunk driving crashes,” according to data from 2014.
Drinking among the college population is also widespread, as about four out of every five students drink alcohol, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
For Liu and Ren, GRN Pals is mostly about safety.
The business is not the first food delivery company, but it is one of the few that includes tobacco and alcohol on the list of items one can purchase. Services such as GrubHub, Doorstep Delivery, Takeout Taxi and Mobile Meals all offer food delivery.
These services don’t, however, deliver alcoholic beverages or tobacco products. Delivery.com allows users to order food, alcohol, groceries and laundry, but they currently don’t serve the USF area. Though these establishments don’t deliver alcohol and tobacco, Ren recalls not being too keen on using these existing businesses while spending time in the library during finals week.
“Sometimes, I got really hungry. I don’t want to go outside and buy food because it wastes a lot of my time,” Ren said. “Then there’s also other delivery companies like GrubHub … but they’re mostly targeting the downtown areas, so by the time they get here it would probably be like an hour (or) two … and that was not so good.’
The business currently serves USF’s Tampa campus and the immediate vicinity. Liu said GRN Pals has obtained a tobacco license and has acquired a partnership with local alcohol retailers. But they don’t deliver any hard liquor -— only beer and wine.
They’ve also partnered with local food retailers with in the area, including ABC Seafood, Kung Fu Tea and Hong Kong House. Their website, GRNpals.com, is currently up and running.
The company is looking to expand to New Tampa in the next few months, and Liu said their long-term goal is to expand to a national scale, serving campuses and their surrounding areas across the U.S.
Ren said GRN Pals is currently hiring new drivers. Currently, two of their friends work as drivers. The current delivery fee comes to $3.
Requirements for a position include a valid driver’s license, insurance, a clean track record and completion of the GRN Pals training program.
Students seem mixed about the new business. Salil Desai, a junior majoring in biology, said GRN Pals would be a convenience for students.
“That (would) be cool, so we don’t have to go out and get stuff ourselves. I mean, it’s pure convenience,” Desai said.
But other students said it might conflict with the campus-wide smoking ban set to start in January.
“If the university is going tobacco free, it’s probably not a good idea,” Diana Nwokoye, a recent graduate in medical science, said.
Sarah Elmallah, a freshman majoring in biomedical science, thinks it might even go beyond that. She said since there are a lot of people not of legal drinking age on campus, such as freshman and those visiting from other schools, it may not be for the best.
Liu said the GRN Pals team has made a few deliveries already but are planning the full launch in the next few weeks. The launch is set to coordinate with the holiday season, Ren said, when a lot of parties take place.