The latest entry in the sharing economy is the family dinner. In the wake of Uber and Airbnb, food-sharing apps such as Kouzina and LaPiat (both out of Toronto) have been popping up to offer hungry customers scratch food prepared by talented home cooks.
Browse the offerings on Kouzina, launched in August 2017, and you’ll find a range of tempting dishes from home-made lasagna to Paleo chicken kebabs and quinoa tabbouleh. Consumers choose their meals and pay on site (about $6 to $15 per serving), then pick them up from the chefs. Kouzina takes a six per cent cut.
It’s a win-win for both cooks and buyers, says Nick Amaral, Kouzina’s 22-year-old creator. “If you’re cooking anyway, there’s just a small amount of additional work and cost in making an extra portion or two,” he says. “The cook makes some income on the side from home, and the buyer gets a healthy, home-cooked meal as convenient as fast food or take-out.”
Nonetheless, the Internet highway has not always been smooth for food-sharing apps in this. At least three, including Tffyn, Homefed and MealSurfers, appear to have shut down for reasons that are unclear. And in 2016, Alberta Health Services shut down Edmonton-based Scarf after just a few months of operation.
“The operator’s actions put AHS in a position of taking legal steps to protect public health,” AHS said in a statement after the business was shut down. “We are here to help Albertans serve safe food and to support them in complying with the regulations that are designed to protect our health and the safe delivery of these operations.”
The food sharing app’s co-owner and CEO, Kian Parseyan, says he tried to work with AHS, developing a safe cooking guide, testing for cooks, and random kitchen inspections every quarter-year. His intensive intake process even included criminal record checks. AHS, says Parseyan, “weren’t interested—I’ve seen more flexible diamonds.”
Amaral might be luckier. Toronto Public Health has expressed a willingness to work with food-sharing apps. TPH spokesperson Sylvanus Thomson says a food-sharing app is required to inform the Medical Officer of Health of their plans and provide a list of home cooks so TPH can inform cooks of the food safety requirements, perform risk assessments and potentially inspect premises. But unless there’s a health hazard, says Thomson, TPH has “no authority to close or prevent a food premises from operating.”
Attracting both cooks and users can also be a challenge for food-sharing apps, says Parseyan, because the apps are a new concept and chefs can be reluctant to put their egos on the line. In hindsight, he says, “it’s quite a fragile business model in a fairly unexplored space.”
For his part, Amaral remains optimistic. “We’re very early stage,” he says. “But we’re gaining users every day, so it’s going well so far.” Although Kouzina is currently focused on Toronto, Amaral would like to expand to other cities and even other countries eventually.
In the meantime, he keeps plugging away, managing expenses by living at home with his parents and eating their home-cooked meals. “I’ve got the real thing right here,” he says.