Josephine Empowers Home Cooks through Small-Scale Production and Community

(3BL Media and Just Means) - Tapas Tuesday at Patricia’s house. Prahok Khatiss Noodles at Monica and Kelvin’s? Or stop by Kelly’s for Bean Soup with Pancetta?  Hungry yet? Sounds better than that frozen pizza or fast food drive-through you’re thinking about tonight, right?

Called the “Uber” of home cooking or “one of the coolest new businesses in America” by The Atlantic and Business Insider respectively, Oakland-based, social enterprise Josephine is an online community of home-based cooks. Josephine’s home chefs describe their experience as a gift of camaraderie, community and sharing. I have a hunch that the latter is exactly how co-founders Charley Wang and Tal Safran think of Josephine, too.

So who is “Josephine” and why does she care about home cooking? In 2013 Wang and Tal Safran, both East Coast transplants, found themselves at the kitchen table of a mutual friend’s mother named Josephine in Los Angeles.

“We were both hustling at companies on the rise, and by luck, we met at Josephine's home [where both Wang and Safran lived for a few months while they settled into L.A.]  Sitting to enjoy a home-cooked meal together was such a contrast, a shock to our conventional ladder climbing mentality. So we started talking philosophically around the table. Why do we love home cooking? Is there a future for it? Business has commoditized food on demand, but having meals that were slow and inconvenient felt so much more important, so nourishing,” explains Wang.

And just as the best, made-from-scratch family secrets take time to simmer, bake and meld—usually while drinking a great glass of wine or two—so did the evolution of Josephine over the kitchen table. The main ingredient of the business? To champion the cooks of society — “the givers, the mothers and fathers, the nourishers—for whom giving boldly is the default.”  Josephine empowers home cooks who may have limited access to job opportunities or need to be home to care for family and are responsible for daily cooking anyway. Patrons place orders online through the Josephine portal and can order from diverse chefs around Oakland. Prices range from $3 for dessert and $15 for an entree.

Based on small-scale production, Josephine cooks aren’t trying to establish restaurants or manage hundreds of customers. And, the best part, they serve food they are cooking for their own family.

“We decided specifically to focus on cooks who have been excluded from the food industry. Nonprofessionals who are stay at home parents, immigrants who speak English as a second language or people who live in food desserts. We serve the underrepresented and are working to reduce the barriers for entry into the workforce,” says Wang.

As part of the Social Venture Network Innovation Entrepreneur Network, Wang has been introduced to other food justice activists like Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farms.

“SVN provides perspective and mentorship. The community has provided varied perspectives. And they have created a brand of businesses that make impact. It would be easy for us to stay the same. But the SVN approach is to make radical and scary changes because we care about continued impact,” explains Wang.

Josephine is continuing to expand impact through a newly added business curriculum and partnership with Berkeley middle schools. Students can sign-up for marketing and business planning electives which teaches them about the business model of home cooking. A few of the courses also include teaching students how to cook, using the produce from a garden at the school and selling this food in the cafeteria. All of the profits go back into the program, just as they would into a business.

For now, Josephine cooks offer meals in the Bay-area, but Wang and his team are hopeful the model will take off around the country. Stay hungry.

Sign-up to order meals from Josephine cooks. Apply to be a cook with Josephine. Join Wang SVN Spring 2016 Conference this April in San Diego. Learn about joining the SVN Social Innovation Entrepreneur Program.