Noobtsaa Philip Vang’s mother came to the U.S. from Laos after the Vietnam War. She worked multiple jobs to support their family and her economic struggles as an immigrant combined with her delicious home-cooked meals served as the inspiration for Foodhini.
Foodhini is one of the newest startups aimed at a crowded food delivery market, a 70 billion dollar industry with stiff competition from big names like GrubHub and Postmates. But Foodhini’s model is different – they call themselves a “for profit social enterprise” with a mission to build sustainable incomes for immigrants in the U.S. through a food commerce platform. But beyond the social good business model, the key differentiator for Foodhini lies in their delivery of local, ethnic cuisine crafted and served by authentic immigrant chefs.
The demand for food delivery is there – either in the form of hot meals ready to eat from nearby restaurants or a collection of ingredients with a recipe, designed to take the guesswork out of dinner prep. Foodhini plans to bring hot meals to your door, but with a twist. Instead of nearby restaurants cooking your dinner, it’s a local immigrant chef preparing authentic cuisine from their culture. Through a shared revenue model with each chef, Foodhini provides the operational infrastructure (a commercial kitchen and a commerce platform) and assumes the bulk of the risk while the chefs are tasked with preparing home-cooked ethnic cuisine that can be served for 2 or 4 people and ordered through the Foodhini online platform.
Vang, who previously led engineering projects for 3M, received his MBA in social enterprise from Georgetown. Having grown up as a first-generation Hmong-American, he recognized the challenges that immigrant communities faced and at the same time felt an appreciation for the unique foods and dishes served in those cultures. Vang used this background to create a platform to empower immigrant chefs and founded Foodhini in the summer of 2015.
“I believe Foodhini is a powerful force for change because we provide a scalable way to impact people’s lives,” said Vang. “Foodhini allows independent immigrant home chefs to leverage their existing culinary skill to create ready to eat authentic home cooked ethnic cuisines direct to consumer using on-demand delivery.”
Foodhini is currently part of the Union Kitchen food incubator based in Washington, D.C. and says that their market research shows around 41 million consumers, concentrated in urban regions, that have a desire for ethnic foods currently not available on restaurant menus. Currently, the startup’s website only shows one chef serving a menu of Laos cuisine, but the company plans to offer 10-12 different cuisines per day with between 1 to 2 meals per chef. The cost of each meal, between $11 and $14, is comparable to average takeout costs. According to Vang, for each meal sold on the platform, the home chef and Foodhini will each receive two and a half dollars of the revenue after costs. Their goal is to deliver 350 meals a day by 2017.
With a crowded food delivery field and the majority of food tech investment continuing to focus on delivery and food commerce startups, Foodhini will have to work hard to establish itself using a unique model. Focusing on social enterprise and the core mission to help immigrant communities might enable them to get some attention. But their ability to scale the platform to urban areas around the country will rely on the strength of consumer demand for locally produced ethnic food, delivered to their doorstep.