You may want to watch out if you’re lactose intolerant and you plan to savor a relaxing, autumnal stroll though the West Village on Sunday afternoon: Grilled cheese sandwiches will be falling from the sky. The one-part-twee-to-two-parts-innovative stunt is the work of Jafflechutes, New York’s premier, non-drone-based airborne food-delivery service.
Australians Adam Grant, David McDonald, and Huw Parkinson began launching “jaffles,” which is the Australian term for grilled cheese sandwiches, via parachute from the windows, balconies, and rooftops of Melbourne in 2013. The concept, which unsurprisingly captivated the hearts and minds of thousands of decent sandwich-loving people, originated from a silly conversation about the serious usages of public spaces.
“We were talking about late-night food options,” says Grant. “The Melbourne CBD makes really good use of its lane-ways and service alleys, with hidden whiskey bars or cafés that you only find out about if you really know the layout of the city. But I had never understood why cities like Melbourne don’t make use of their vertical space.”
This particular line of thought converged with Grant’s recollection of having his keys dropped to him from the fifth-story balcony of his apartment — then specifically discovering what a bad idea it was to try to catch a set of keys at terminal velocity. “I thought there had to be a better way. So, naturally, we landed on parachutes,” he says.
Taking a cue from the classic army-man parachute toy, Grant and his buddies fashioned dozens of parachutes out of garbage bags, nylon string, tape, and garden wire. They derived the real aerodynamic know-how by sourcing designs online posted by “ex-military guys who make bottle rockets in their spare time,” and after several test runs — “we did, in the really early days, throw a lot of things off my balcony that didn’t go so well” — they spread word on social media, inviting punters to select and pre-purchase sandwiches for $5 each with PayPal, form a sort of grilled-cheese flash mob at the appointed time, and then just wait for it.
The jaffles come in banana and peanut butter, cheddar and Vegemite, ham and cheddar, and cheddar and Vegemite varieties, with customers’ names written on the wrappers — not that there have been any issues with jaffle thieving. The crew also always drops a few freebie contingency sandwiches in case of error or for those shut out of the ordering process — or for the curious. A test run at Greenpoint’s Pencil Factory attracted 100 people last Thursday.
“No one will believe me right off the bat until I show them a picture or look them in the eye and say, ‘This is real,’” Grant says. “And then they love it. Generally we then launch into a conversation about other foods you could shoot at people from a cannon or drop from a drone. Not that I want to be just known as the whimsical food-delivery guy.”
Beyond the broad appeal of grilled cheese sandwiches, Grant says he’s come to realize a dose of drama, such as a whip of wind coming in suddenly off the East River, adds suspense to the proceedings. “We used to try to find locations that were completely devoid of obstacles and did a couple of drops where nothing went wrong at all,” he says. “To be honest, it started to feel a little bit boring. You really need a villain is what we discovered. That villain could be a tree or a truck or a bus stop. Something that takes a minimum of 5 to 10 percent.”
The next drop is set to take place at 1 p.m. Sunday in the West Village, with concrete details to emerge on the group’s website. There is, Grant was pleased to note, an appropriately villainous-looking tree nearby.