A made-in-the-kitchen small business revolution is occurring in Capitol Hill and neighborhoods across Seattle. Josephine, an Oakland, CA-based startup which recently expanded to Seattle in 2016, believes in empowering home chefs to reach their local community, while supplying good meals to neighbors. This blog post happened because of a glowing comment from a current Josephine customer, Jordan L., in Capitol Hill. He enthusiastically recommended their service (see his referral below).
The two who started this business, Charley and Tal, named it after meeting initially at the warm, welcome home of a mutual friend’s mother Josephine, who invited them over regularly. This spawned discussions over meals about the value of home-cooking and whether we were losing that connection in our world.
A reoccurring comment about the Josephine service is that it connects neighbors to other neighbors; sometimes people you wouldn’t meet in your day-to-day, busy life. Customers come pick their food up in a chef’s warm, welcome (and safety-certified) kitchen, after signing up for free at the Josephine site. After entering your zip code on the site, you will be able to see where chefs are located in your area. Once a week, members receive a newsletter showing the week’s food offerings from different kitchens, and how far they are away from your location.
This method requires meal planning on your part, since it’s not a delivery service, but many people say the homemade food quality is excellent. Chefs often have repeat customers. The choices are vast: ethnic dishes (that might not be available at restaurants in that neighborhood), vegan, gluten-free, baked goods and American comfort food, to name a few.
“We provide healthy food options, where the money stays in the community,” says Simone Stolzoff, Director of Communications, at Josephine. “You can buy food that reflects individual cooks’ culture; the most authentic representation of what they would feed to their own families.” Dishes are served a la carte, and cooks set their own prices, typically ranging between $8-12 per full meal, according to Stolzoff. In the Seattle area, including Capitol Hill, the local network extends as far north as Lynnwood and as far south as Tacoma.
Those approved to cook for Josephine decide what they want to cook and how often, and carry a WA food handlers licence as certification. They pass a safety inspection from Josephine, and two Masters of Public Health are on staff to check-in with new cooks before ever posting their offerings. Mark Bittman, of PBS and cookbook fame, also sits on Josephine’s board. Small business owners receive 90% of the revenue, while 10% goes to Josephine for maintaining the website, marketing home cooks’ meals, and creating a credit payment process for them.
It isn’t always smooth sailing. Although meeting standards for food safety, they have run into problems with government regulation, previously receiving “Cease-and-Desist” orders in California. But legislation continues to be developed and proposed.
A May 19th, 2016 NPR article mentions that Willard Middle School in Berkeley, Calif., has a student-run operation (with supervision) which has partnered with Josephine for the past 3 years. To date, it has brought in over $100,000 in revenue to the school, and is very popular with the locals.
As Simone Stolzoff commented upon Josephine’s mission, “More than anything, it’s about connecting people and bringing them together.”