When it comes to connecting restaurants and consumers, a lot of progress has been made in the past few years as local tech companies have built out online reviews, reservations, delivery, and loyalty systems. In many cities, with a few taps on a mobile device you can now order nearly any imaginable meal to your door within an hour, or research a place, look at the menu, and book a table.
Feastly wants to take this a step further, connecting you with a specific chef instead of a restaurant so that you can have a unique meal prepared for you and your party wherever you want to eat it. Think of it like Airbnb/Uber for meals — rather than having to open a physical restaurant (with all of the attendant costs and staffing), the service enables chefs to offer their skills to consumers and facilitate interaction around their food. Rather than in a set restaurant environment, meals can be offered in homes and other local spaces.
Street Fight recently caught up with Feastly’s co-founder Noah Karesh and advisor Lem Lloyd to talk about how the company is hoping to upend the way we think about eating at restaurants.
What was the inspiration behind starting Feastly?
Karesh: I was traveling to Guatemala with my girlfriend. When we travel, we like to eat as locally as possible, but strangely, we couldn’t find any Guatemalan food in Guatemala. We went on a search for local food, saw a young avocado seller, and asked him if he knew where we could find some. He looked up at us with this big smile on his face and said, “Yeah, my mom’s house.” We followed him to her house, and there she was, making this magical meal.
While we were there with her, I felt bad for everyone eating in touristy restaurants. Why was it so hard for us to find her? That was really the genesis of Feastly, and what we’ve built is a marketplace that allows any chef to serve meals wherever they want, whenever they want — whether it’s in their home, at a pop-up venue, or at another location. For diners, we’re trying to create the next global restaurant, where you can go and find all of these amazing professional chefs, meals from supper clubs, and home cooks.
Despite the massive number of food delivery companies, there’s also a market for not just minimizing the eating experience to a simple online transaction. When we consider tech in 2016, especially with food, we tend to think of companies that remove person-to-person interaction, and Feastly doesn’t do that. What are your thoughts about this pervasive narrative of tech taking people out of the equation for efficiency’s sake, when companies like yours exist?
Karesh: There are two sides of the food spectrum, utility and experience. A lot of what we eat during the day, especially during lunch: it’s utility. We need fuel. But food isn’t just fuel for your body; it’s experiential, too. We look at the dining room table as the original social network. How can we use technology to bring people together and bridge the gap between online and offline? We want to make it more meaningful than going to a place where you’re sitting very close to other people who are eating and having the same experience, but you’re not interacting with them. You overhear them, but you’re just trying to focus on your own conversation, as opposed to allowing for interaction.
Lloyd: When you think about all of the industries that have been undergoing transformation, especially from a local services perspective, the local dining experience – going out for food – hasn’t really changed that much over the last several decades. We feel it’s ripe for change. If you want to go out and try a different kind of food, [Feastly] is much more of an experience than going to a local restaurant. It’s very cost-effective – you can have an interaction with a chef that was previously reserved for a very high-end, exclusive kind of meal, for people who could pay to be at a chef’s table or back room. Feastly is trying to democratize that experience.
Being chef-centric is a pretty specific subset of the food vertical. What have you learned working with chefs?
Karesh: We look at our chefs as creatives and artists, and I think a lot of the world considers people in the culinary field to be service workers. We’re flipping that script. They’re a lot more than that. We’re appreciating what they’re making, and allowing them to share their work in an easier way, compared to the difficulties they would otherwise have to go through opening a food truck or starting a restaurant — which takes a lot of business acumen, and the chances of success are very slim. We’re taking a lot of that pressure off of them and allowing their food to be exposed and amplified in a way that it couldn’t be before.
Is there anything about the Feastly model that you think can be applied to other local service providers? What could you share with another company focused on matching local resources and local demand?
Karesh: In working with our chefs, they determine their prices, instead of the marketplace. I think that’s always a really interesting thing to consider: How do you figure out a correct price point for the market, and how do you guide whoever your providers are around that? It’s a big thing that we’re learning – what’s fair?
What’s the long-term vision for Feastly?
Karesh: We’re looking to become the largest dining establishment in the world. Whether you’re in Boston, Bangkok, or Bangalore, you can come onto Feastly and always find an amazing meal from a chef in your area and have a much better dining experience than you would at other, more traditional places.
Lloyd: The neat thing about Feastly is that you can be a professional chef showing your meals, but you can also be somebody who enjoys food and would like to have larger dinner parties, or one of the hundreds of thousands of companies out there looking for a private event. Instead of going to a restaurant and reserving a room to have a fairly regular experience that anybody could have, you can do something more special.
Karesh: We’re enabling people who have different ambitions [in making or eating food] – whether it’s making money or meeting new people, from the recreational to the professional – to have a place to do that.
Annie Melton is Street Fight’s news editor. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.