Startup creates neighbor-to-neighbor food sharing

Marketplace Contributor Nov 25, 2015

Startup creates neighbor-to-neighbor food sharing

Marketplace Contributor Nov 25, 2015

A new Bay Area start-up is trying to make a business out of neighbor-to-neighbor food sharing. You can order homemade dishes online and then pick them up from a neighborhood cook. This week’s menu includes sweet potato biscuits and pumpkin pie.

Cook Lissette Silva works out of the kitchen in her neat craftsman home in Berkeley. It’s filled with the smell of garlic and onion. Today’s dish is Caldo Gallego, a Galician stew with beans, chorizo and ham hocks. Silva packs to-go soup containers for two of her regular customers. The new service is called Josephine. It’s been a way for Silva to make money since she was laid off from a corporate job last spring.

Lissette Silva in her kitchen, where she cooks meals to sell through the sharing service Josephine. 

Here’s how it works: You go online and order dishes made by home cooks and then pick them up from their houses. 

Mandy Schmitt regularly orders lunch from Silva. “It’s kind of like walking over to a friend’s house and picking up a delicious meal,” said Schmitt. “It’s a lot of stuff that I wouldn’t normally cook for myself. I wouldn’t take the time to do it!”

Other options on the Josephine menu this week include Tom Kha soup or salmon burgers.

But, some Californians  have mixed reactions when you ask them about eating from someone’s home. “I would have some concerns about other people’s kitchens, and their cleanliness for their food handling,” said Richard Lincoln.  

Christine Campos, also of California, agreed. “It’s pretty shady, you don’t know what their put in it and like sanitation-wise.”

Anticipating such questions, company officials from Josephine said they send an outreach team to vet potential cooks and inspect their kitchens before they can work through the company. At the moment, Josephine only operates in the Bay Area. 

The small kitchen in Lissette Silva’s home is immaculate. But, Josephine’s business still may not be legal because the cooks’ kitchens are not inspected by the public health department, like  a commercial kitchen would be.

Alameda County is currently investigating whether the service is violating the California Retail Food Code. The law says you can’t sell food out of a home to the public without a health permit. The county refused to talk to Marketplace, citing its open investigation.

Jesse Catlin, a marketing professor at Sacramento State University, predicts the business will face legal challenges. “Ultimately a lot of it depends on how you actually classify the business,” said Catlin. “Are these independent people operating restaurants, or are they thought to be independent people simply selling small amounts of food out of their home?

In any case, Josephine is growing fast. There are now more than 40 Bay Area cooks, and the company is eyeing Seattle and Austin.

For Silva it’s a great way to meet people in her neighborhood. “They come on in. They get their meal. We chit chat, and they take off!” she said.  

She charges between $10 and $15 per individual meal, which means she grosses between $200 – $250 per batch. And she loves working from home so she can spend more time with her kids.

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