By Alice Dai
Here’s the question on everyone’s mind: what to eat tonight?
Enter Dishful, a startup recently founded by Stanford and University of Southern California alums, that is introducing a novel concept to eating healthful, homemade meals, delivered to your door.
Dishful’s main goal is to promote a shared economy of dining that connects the home chef with customers, the “diners.” Diners choose a dish from Dishful’s website, and their order is delivered to any location from San Jose to Daly City. Chefs set their prices to cover labor and ingredient costs and diners pay this price along with a $4 delivery fee.
According to cofounder Justin Lee ’13, Dishful, which is derived from the term, “A dish full of goodness,” hopes to capture the spirit of homemade meals that highlights both the cultural richness of the dish and the chef.
Lee sparked the idea for the company during a trip to Japan spring break. Lee wanted to bring home his culinary experiences abroad, and the idea of recruiting passionate home chefs and creating an online marketplace where diners can purchase dishes led way to Dishful.
“We’re riding that wave of the shared economy and we hope Dishful becomes the shared economy for home-cooked food,” cofounder Hunter Hunt said.
Lee and Hunt, along with cofounders Alejandro Ceballos ’15 and Megan Hansley ’15, joined a three-month incubator program in June to develop their idea for the company. Right now, the startup is in a “pre-alpha” phase where they are testing their website and identifying the first wave of loyal Dishful diners.
“[We hope Dishful creates a culture of] food connecting people to other people [and] food connecting diners to chefs,” Lee said. “There are very few replacements for the homey food your mother or grandmother made for you. I think that’s the kind of brand we’re going for on an emotional level.”
Dishful’s appeal comes from the company’s emphasis on homemade and high-quality cooking. The team undergoes a rigorous vetting process to recruit chefs for their platform. The Dishful marketplace currently offers a diverse array of cuisines ranging from Indian curries and spicy Szechuan stir-fries to savory snacks and sweet desserts. All four founding members offer their dishes in the marketplace as well.
“[As Dishful’s founders] we love cooking,” Lee said. “It’s important that we all cook a little bit because we want to empathize with our chefs… A lot of our chefs have been thrilled when we’ve sold out their stuff or when they get some review that’s nice.”
Tim Dang ’13 recently joined the Dishful chef community and has offered spinach and gruyere quiche, blueberry streusel coffee cake and pumpkin pecan bundt cake on the site. As a busy Stanford medical student who has a passion for cooking and nutrition, Tim said the Dishful platform accommodates his busy schedule because chefs have the freedom to both cook a dish of their choosing and set its delivery times.
“The ability to play a small a part and be a part of this community as it grows … has been really gratifying for me,” Dang said.
During a trip to Dishful’s headquarters, I sampled handmade Burmese samosas made by Dishful home cook Mia Ma. The samosa had a crispy skin and a potato filling that packed a punch of spices. The essence of homemade cooking is a big selling point for the company, and their dishes have unique flavor profiles that attract diners to see cultures through food.
“You can’t really find a lot of the things on Dishful easily at a restaurant.” Lee said. “That’s the main thing: the food being unique, the food being tasty, the food definitely being homemade and all the great associations with homemade, authentic, healthy. Simple but flavorful, and affordable.”
However, Dishful has encountered some obstacles in attracting chefs and diners to their platform.
“We’ve done a lot of outreach,” Hunt said. “In the early stages you have to put in a lot of legwork because one of the most challenging things for a startup is getting that first initial group of loyal users, the visionaries, because a lot of people won’t want to use it until it’s cool.”
The team has faced chefs who have adamantly declined their business offers and diners who are hesitant to try their platform. Nonetheless, the site has garnered over 500 unique viewers within a few weeks of launching, according to Lee. Many diners are international students craving foods from their home countries or busy professionals who do not have time to cook themselves.
“The reception has been, as you expect…not perfect.” Lee said. “We’re not at the point where we’re building something full time where the product is the beautiful, perfect thing. We’re still in that in-between stage.”
This stage, called the minimum viable product (MVP), is meant to simulate the Dishful experience without the funding and engineering of a full-fledged product. After the company’s three month incubation period, which ends in August, obtaining seed funding and financial support is the next step in progressing the company.
“We fundamentally believe that our product is creating value,” Lee said. “It’s this really hard problem that we’re trying to achieve here and the [Dishful] marketplace is a chicken-and-egg problem where we have a community of diners we need to build, as well as a community of chefs we need to build, and that’s a big task.”
Dishful’s platform is constantly undergoing changes and improvements. Lee and Hunt hope to personalize the marketplace with chef bios, star ratings and dish reviews. Dishful may as well be a promising new start to answering the question, “What will you eat tonight?”
Interested in Dishful? Check it out here: dishful.co
Contact Alice Dai at alicettdai ‘at’ gmail.com.