Entrepreneurs often stumble upon business ideas at key points in their lives. Akshay Prabhu, who later founded home restaurant startup Foodnome, was studying neuroscience at the University of California at Davis, but wasn’t sure that was the path he wanted to take. At the same time, Prabhu cooked for his housemates and had been passionate about food since childhood.
Prabhu opened his own pop-up diner serving the community, but the experience wasn’t without its challenges, as diners would bring extra guests or not pay on time. To overcome these kinds of hurdles, Prabhu went to work creating a more efficient and easier way to run a successful food operation. The result was the home restaurant platform Foodnome, which Prabhu likes to think of as a “home restaurant incubator.”
“We provide home cooks with the tools and resources necessary for them to market, manage and monetize their own home restaurant,” he said. With that goal in mind, Prabhu helps cooks with ingredient sourcing, meal costing, marketing and reservations. At a higher level, Prabhu’s company is a two-sided marketplace that connects cooks and diners who interact through his digital platform.
The Business Model
To find nearby home restaurants, diners log onto the Foodnome website. The site has a tagging system to help customers with specific dietary needs find home restaurants to accommodate vegan or gluten-free diets, for example. After finding a home restaurant, the customer can book a seat at a dine-in event or reserve a plate of food for pickup. They can pay in advance through PayPal or a credit card before heading out to enjoy the food or pick up a meal.
When it comes to his target market, Prabhu likes to think that anyone can access his company’s experiences. He noted that his events are obtainable for the average consumer, with a cost of between $10 and $20 per meal – something a diner can enjoy on a casual weeknight after a long day of work. “We’re really trying to bring people together over homemade meals,” Prabhu said, adding that he is trying to facilitate community engagement with his platform.
On the home restaurant side of the marketplace, Prabhu has a spectrum of cooks on his platform, ranging from nutrition consultants making homemade meals to students in culinary school who want to start a restaurant to anyone who loves cooking and is interested in food. “We like to think there’s not a high barrier of entry to become a cook on Foodnome,” Prabhu said.
The Food Sharing Economy
To ensure that diners are served quality meals, Prabhu personally vets cooks, working with them to do a practice run and to learn more about them. In addition, his platform features two-sided ratings, as diners review cooks and cooks review diners. He also noted that cooks prepare their meals in small batches and that they are passionate about their home restaurants.
The idea of home restaurants isn’t too far off in a world that has become accustomed to the sharing economy. As Prabhu pointed out, it has become normal for passengers to get into cars driven by people they don’t know through ridesharing platforms. Therefore, eating a homecooked meal in the home of someone they don’t know is a “natural extension” of that.
That’s a thought shared by another food sharing economy platform, Appetivo, that is also seeking to tap into the food gig economy. In a press release announcing its launch in September, the company equated its business model to the early days of rideshares and home shares, saying that they “offer everyday people a gig opportunity.” Beyond Appetivo and Foodnome, DishDivvy also seeks to connect cooks with diners looking for homemade meals.
DishDivvy Founder Ani Torosyan told PYMNTS in a prior interview that home cooks on her platform include stay-at-home moms, but she is also noticing there are cooks who might be chopping carrots all day in a restaurant without the chance to really try out a recipe. “This allows them to have a creative outlet,” she noted. In addition, she has seen individuals who love to cook but might otherwise have a full-time job.
Emerging food platforms like DishDivvy and Foodnome can help home chefs share their talents with the world while providing diners with the chance to enjoy a homecooked meal and, depending on the platform, an opportunity to meet others who want to have the same experience.