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Israeli startup WoodSpoon app connects home chefs with hungry New Yorkers

Platform provides certification, advertising, payment system for cooks; Israelis, other immigrant communities find niche on application

Luke Tress is an editor and a reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Offerings by Israeli home cook Liri Haram on the Israeli-founded app WoodSpoon, in New York City. (courtesy)
Offerings by Israeli home cook Liri Haram on the Israeli-founded app WoodSpoon, in New York City. (courtesy)

New Yorkers who crave a home cooked meal and don’t have time to cook can get their fix with the Israeli-founded startup WoodSpoon.

The app connects home chefs with nearby customers, combining the kind of gig work and food delivery services that have boomed during the pandemic. The platform provides home chefs with everything they need to “open a mini restaurant at home,” said Merav Kalish Rozengarten, one of the company’s founders.

The company gives home chefs packaging, certification, delivery, a payment system, and marketing. Hungry customers open the WoodSpoon app to find nearby cooks who are available to prepare a meal at a certain time.

Rozengarten launched the company in New York in 2019, with fellow Israelis Oren Saar and Lee Reshef.

“We basically just missed home food. We really wanted a good shakshuka or a good couscous, and we just couldn’t find the real deal,” Rozengarten said.

“We said, ‘How come in a city like New York you can literally order anything with a click of a button, and you can’t order homemade food? And we probably have a lot of Israelis around us as we speak who make a good shakshuka.'”

The company follows the model of the sharing economy, giving home cooks a way share their food, like AirBnb did for housing and Uber did for driving.

WoodSpoon vets the chefs by inspecting their kitchens, checking the quality of the food, and making sure the pricing is reasonable.

There are over 200 chefs using the platform in New York City. Some are professionals, while others make family dishes in their spare time.

The company got a boost from the pandemic, as the city’s restaurant industry was decimated in its early months, and many food industry workers lost their jobs. WoodSpoon gave some of them an outlet to keep working, and gave customers another food delivery option while restaurants were closed.

Israelis in the city have found a niche on the platform, partially because the founders are Israeli and also part of the New York community, so they know how to reach potential customers via Facebook and WhatsApp groups. Israelis share food tips in New York in Hebrew Facebook groups like “Hungry people in the US,” often on how to get ingredients and dishes from home.

Israeli cooks on WoodSpoon sell out of jachnun, a decadent, doughy weekend dish, on Saturdays, while other cooks peddle challah and cholent. Sales are often up ahead of Shabbat and holidays, like Rosh Hashanah, as Jewish New Yorkers scramble to prepare.

The company found that Israelis were not the only community in the city that missed homemade food and authentic dishes from home kitchens. Other niche cuisines thrive on the platform, including food from the Caribbean, Singapore, and Suriname, Rozengarten said. Italian food might be considered more of a staple, but the app lets users discover special finds, like pasta cooked from old family recipes.

Other groups also quickly took to the app, such as working parents who do not want to order takeout too often.

Liri Haram, an Israeli living in New York, started selling dishes on WoodSpoon as a side project, after seeing an ad for the company.

“I love cooking and I love feeding people,” she said. The lack of communal eating during the pandemic “made me consider this as a side project that I could also make some money” doing, she said.

She lived in Tel Aviv for several years before the move, and missed the quality of its vegan offerings in New York.

“If you’re going to a restaurant that is not 100 percent vegan, the options are, a lot of the time, a lot less appealing than the high standard we’re accustomed to in Israel,” she said. “It’s not that you can’t find vegan food in the city, but you have to work for it a little harder than back home.”

Bread by Israeli home cook Liri Haram on the Israeli-founded app WoodSpoon, in New York City. (courtesy)

Haram is not a trained chef, and she does not make single portions, but batch cooks dishes she knows how to make well. She might make a sheet in the morning or afternoon, and sell when orders come in. Her dishes include banana bread, soups, stews, and roasted vegetables with rice. She believes many of the customers are Israelis looking for vegan foods.

She has also participated in a WoodSpoon program that donates meals to Holocaust survivors. She made an orange vegetable soup as an appetizer, rice with tomato sauce and tofu balls for an entrée, and “a generous slice of banana bread for desert.”

Israeli startups and restaurants have flourished in New York. The nonprofit New York-Israel Business Alliance counts 506 Israeli-founded businesses in New York State, generating $18.6 billion in revenue and employing over 24,000 people. A survey by the group last year found 173 restaurants owned by Israelis in New York State, most located in New York City.

The website Israeli Mapped in NYC counts 293 Israeli startups in New York City. Nineteen Israeli unicorns, or private companies valued at over $1 billion, are located in New York. Israeli tech firms including SentinelOne, ironSource and monday.com went public in New York in the past year.

WoodSpoon is looking ahead with plans to expand outside New York City soon, Rozengarten said. The company raised $14 million in a Series A funding round in August, and launched a catering service aimed at New York City companies last week.

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