A unique app that connects home cooks to their local community has gotten some real traction during the COVID-19 pandemic.
WoodSpoon was founded a little over a year ago by two Israeli entrepreneurs living in New York. It was a labor of love for Jacnun, the flaky Israeli pastry co-founders Oren Saar and Merav Kalish Rozengarten couldn’t find anywhere.
“We just missed our home food, the Middle Eastern dishes,” said Rozengarten. “We thought to ourselves, ‘How come there is nothing around us that helps us find our Israeli neighbors that know how to cook?”
It started in their community but expanded to 100 chefs and 6,000 users across the New York area. Rozengarten said there has been a big surge since COVID-19 hit both from users looking to support their local community who have fewer restaurant options during the pandemic shutdown, but also chefs. She said there is a waiting list right now of 200 home cooks eager to get on the platform and start selling their food.
“Since COVID we have more and more professional chefs whose restaurants and are looking for more ways to earn money and still cook and still do what they want to do,” said Rozengarten. “I think its maybe 50-50 now, a little more professional since COVID.”
The other half are folks like Giuseppe Amato, an Italian cook who is a designer by day and Michal Bacharach, a food blogger who puts her passion to work after the blog is done for the day. They’re all looking to use their passion for food to make a little extra income.
Rozengarten said the company takes care of just about everything aside from the cooking. It uses eco-friendly food containers, and bags, gloves and masks when delivering via third-party partners. Of course, it maintains the app too, which brings up home cooks on the platform in the immediate area so users can order from within their neighborhood to ensure speed and quality, while keeping money in the area.
The company also does home visits and testing to ensure cooks are adhering to safety guidelines.
“There is a process, we usually are doing home visits, but now it’s through Zoom. We’re checking the kitchen is clean and that you have everything that we need on our checklist. Then there are tasting groups and you need to have a food safety course done online, unless you’re a professional chef and have all your documents,” said Rozengarten. “It’s not hard, but it’s you not just register and go. We want to make sure that everything is safe.”
WoodSpoon charges small fees to both cooks and customers to enable the process.
Rozengarten said they’re currently using angel investment to continue, but are currently fundraising for seed capital. The plan is to expand first to California and then to Massachusetts. A key reason to go to California and also a limiting factor for the company are laws around home cooking.
“We definitely take the legal side very serious. One of the reasons we want to expand to California is because selling home cooking is totally legal. You just need to get a permit and it’s not really a big hassle, but you have to get it to sell from our house,” said Rozengarten. “We see a movement all over the states to make it legal everywhere because they see it coming.”
She said right now, it’s a legal realm that is a bit outdated, much like the broader sharing economy.
“For the sharing economy, the law has not been updated. Like Uber and Airbnb, it wasn’t completely legal at first, but we see it getting there soon,” said Rozengarten.
She said Woodspoon taps into a real change in how people approach food after COVID changed everything. For one, foodies are sick of cooking everything themselves.
“The way that we see it, COVID actually changed the way people are going to consume food in general. It’s not that obvious that people will go to restaurants or go out at all. They’d like to eat at home, but still explore a lot of cultures and new cuisines and dishes. We think this is a great way to explore through food and get to know chefs and their stories and your community around you,” said Rozengarten.
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