Someone else’s kitchen could be the next place cooking up your food delivery order thanks to a soon-to-launch service called WoodSpoon. Set to begin service on September 16 in NYC, the service is an on-demand delivery marketplace for homemade meals as well as a platform for local cooks.
WoodSpoon CEO and co-founder Oren Saar, who moved to the U.S. from Israel to do a Masters degree at MIT four years ago, got the idea for WoodSpoon in 2016 after a roommate said he preferred Saar’s cooking to any option he might find on Grubhub, Caviar, or other food delivery services. Speaking over the phone this week, Saar told me he had a “white light” moment then as he realized there could be serious demand for people wanting to order homemade meals from local cooks.
He’d be the first to say the idea wasn’t completely original — plenty of companies have tried over the last several years to launch delivery businesses for home-cooked food, including Danny Meyer’s Umi Kitchen, HomeFood in the UK, and FoodByUs in Australia. Saar says he reached out to these and others to better understand the business he was trying to break into: what worked, what didn’t, why these companies eventually shuttered or pivoted towards other directions, and how he, along with his WoodSpoon cofounder and company CMO Merav Kalish Rozengarten, could do things slightly different. “We really based our entire product on the experience that others had before us,” says Saar.
The WoodSpoon platform is made up of two different apps, both developed in-house and available on iOS and Android platforms. The customer-facing app functions like most food order and delivery apps out there: users search for meals, order, and pay within the app. What’s available in terms of food depends on which cooks in the area are working at that moment, which means options for users change on a daily basis.
Currently, WoodSpoon has 30 cooks signed up to its platform, a mix of professional chefs with culinary degrees those who hold other jobs but enjoy cooking for others in their off hours. Saar himself is one of the the latter.
To find cooks, WoodSpoon relies on both those who apply directly to the company and channels like Instagram. “We’re looking for people that have really good rankings with good reviews,” says Saar. Anyone is welcome to apply; all are carefully vetted through a rigorous process that includes interviews, an evaluation of the food itself, and a kitchen inspection to ensure cooks are properly equipped and licensed to meet restaurant safety standards in New York. With legalities around home-kitchen food businesses in NYC somewhat nebulous, many of WoodSpoon’s cooks actually use their own commercial kitchen facilities to make the food.
Cooks manage all orders via a separate app and can decide to accept or pass on an order much the way an Uber driver takes passengers. Once an order is accepted, an onscreen timer tells the cook how much time they have to complete the order and package it up. (WoodSpoon provides packaging materials.) As that’s happening, the system talks to a delivery person (right now, WoodSpoon contracts its own drivers), who will know when to arrive at the cook’s space to retrieve the order and take it to the customer. Cooks set the price of each dish as well as the delivery fee, and WoodSpoon takes a commission on each order.
According to Saar, the hope is that users develop an affinity for a certain cook or type of food and re-order with the same loyalty they might have for a favorite local restaurant. “Our entire mission is to empower local cooks to share their food with others,” he says. “Once you get to the know them, you [will] want their food.”
The home-chef-as-a-business model may not be new, but it is only just starting to gain traction here in the U.S. Even in a densely populated metropolis like NYC, WoodSpoon won’t face a ton of competition when it launches in a few weeks. How quickly the concept catches on will depend on each state’s individual regulations around selling home-made food commercially. California, for example, green-lighted a home food bill in 2018, but in other states the practice is still illegal.
To start, WoodSpoon will be available in Manhattan’s East Village and West Village neighborhoods, with expansions planned for the near future, both within NYC and to other parts of the country.