Home office for cooks?

During the Corona pandemic, many restaurant workers are struggling with existential fears. The two founders of HomeMeal (previously: HomeMealDeal) wanted to change that. In mid-2020, they founded their start-up, which enables chefs to go into the home office and sell their dishes to customers via app. How this works, how Martin Schmidt and Mario Dugonik want to revolutionize the food market in Berlin and all of Germany with their idea, and with whom the two would like to go out to eat in private, they reveal to us in an interview.

How did you come up with the idea of founding your start-up?

In April 2020, many of our friends had lost their jobs during the pandemic in the restaurant industry. Accordingly, the question for us was how to help these people. The obvious solution was to create a home office for chefs, or to allow the preparation and sale of dishes from the chef's own private home. Of course everyone thought we were crazy, something like this was unthinkable in Germany until then!

On the consumer side, we conducted an extensive MVP experiment with about 100 customer interviews. For example, migrants told us that in Berlin restaurants food from the respective country's cuisine is modified for the mainly German target group and that the authentic taste of the homeland cannot be found in Berlin. Until then, the only solution was to cook the dishes yourself or to know the authentic recipes, to procure the exotic ingredients and sometimes to invest a lot of time in the preparation. A real problem of foodies and immigrants!

Accordingly, we had a problem on the side of the cooks and a problem on the side of the consumers. Our concept with strong positioning on high quality and authentic dishes from all over the world at affordable prices solved the problems on both sides! A business idea was born!

What is your mission?

The revolution of gastronomy! In this, we see ourselves in line with companies such as Uber and AirBnB, which have been able to lead entire industries into the future. We want to give talented chefs the opportunity to open and profitably run a business with their own passion and without large financial investments. Flexibility, self-determination and creative freedom are at the top of our agenda. Our partners can build something big with their own resources and bring the culinary knowledge of their parents' home to the big cities of Germany via HomeMeal. The job market has limited opportunities for people without German language skills, for example, or even single mothers. We create new opportunities and help our partners to have a fulfilling professional life!

Cook Clara: "Cooking is not just about putting ingredients together. It's about the energy, the emotion, and the art." Photo: Stefanie Hofeditz

To the market, we bring the authentic homemade culinary diversity of the world! Also dishes which are not available to the market due to lack of mass appeal. High quality and healthy through the use of fresh ingredients and small quantities.

What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome at the beginning?

By far the biggest challenge was the legal implementation of our business concept. On the one hand, we had to develop a hygiene concept that, despite private kitchens, offers maximum safety for the consumer and meets all legal requirements. On the other hand, trust had to be created with the authorities for this novel approach.

The clean processing of this challenge required many months and hundreds of discussions with various authorities and politicians. In December 2020, the time had finally come and we were given the opportunity to demonstrate our hygiene concept in the market - specifically in Berlin Tempelhof-Schöneberg. In the meantime, we also operate in the Berlin districts of Mitte, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Neukölln and Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf.

The legal basis for our hygiene concept is the food hygiene regulation valid for the European Union, which makes us scalable for the entire EU area.

If an investor were to provide you with 250,000 euros, what would you do with the money?

In June we were able to win our first strong lead investor for our vision and now have sufficient financial resources for the next big milestones. As there are currently no competitors in the German-speaking region, we are pursuing a growth-oriented strategy with short intervals between financing rounds and the big goal of being represented in all major cities in Europe by 2023.

By our next funding round, we will have expanded to Cologne, have over 150 chefs on the platform and be able to offer a delivery service. Our strong growth of approx. +100% per month was generated purely organically in the first 6 months after release or driven by major media appearances (e.g. Pro 7 Galileo) and word of mouth. In order to be able to keep our ambitious goals, we will invest the next months specifically in marketing for more chefs and consumers. Furthermore, strengthening the core team to optimize the Android/iOS app and business processes is an important point.

Can anyone sign up as a chef with you or do you have to prove your skills first?

In principle, anyone can become a chef on our platform. However, we have a waiting list of over 300 candidates for Berlin alone and therefore only try to accept chefs who are 100% compatible with the positioning and guidelines of HomeMeal. In addition to the specificity of the dishes, we require references that show quality and a sense of responsibility. Furthermore, we have a strict hygiene concept, which must be fulfilled by the chef in all respects. However, we are convinced that quality, specialness and reliability are not bound to a cook's education and therefore every applicant gets a fair chance to become part of our platform.

With Homemeal, authentic taste and exotic dishes can be found in the middle of Berlin. Photo: Homemeal, 2021

Are your prices different from restaurant prices?

Our chefs can run a restaurant without having to pay rent for premises. These fixed costs are no longer necessary and are invested in the procurement of fresh ingredients and the quality of our dishes. Furthermore, we offer real authentic dishes from the home of our chefs, this requires the procurement of special ingredients. In the end, we have similar prices as restaurants, but we offer high quality and authentic dishes from all over the world. However, we give our chefs the freedom to set their own prices, we want our partners to feel responsible for their own business and to determine the optimal cost for the food they cook.

How do you manage to keep the hygiene standards at home?

First of all, the cook must meet the general legal requirements. This means a health certificate (Berlin: "Red Card") and gaining extensive knowledge of the food hygiene regulations. After these two training courses, the cook has the necessary foundation to be able to run a restaurant hygienically.

There must also be a strict separation between private and commercial food in storage and preparation. Our cooks need separate kitchen utensils and a second refrigerator to eliminate contamination between personal use and commercial use. Furthermore, the kitchen must be thoroughly cleaned before commercial use and no other people may be there during operating hours.

Another important point is a business registration of the cook and the communication of the operating hours. This gives the cook visibility to food inspectors and allows for unannounced inspections.

What's next for you after Corona, do you already have plans?

We will continue to offer our consumers dishes that would not be available on the Berlin market without HomeMeal. With our clear positioning on authentic and high quality dishes, we continue to deliver an appealing product to our target groups of immigrants, foodies and young families even after the pandemic. The distinctiveness of our offering compared to conventional delivery services is recognized by our clientele and is reflected in the approximately 2,000 reviews of our chefs with an average rating of 4.9 out of 5 stars.

On the partner side, there continues to be an unbroken high demand. We allow maximum flexibility with your own business without a large financial investment. We help our chefs to realize their own dreams with the perspective of great success. For example, we support our most successful chefs in renting a larger commercial kitchen to handle the large volume of orders. This attractive possibility for the gastronomy is independent of the pandemic.

And since you're all about food and indulgence, who would you like to have dinner with?

With Alvin Salehi and Joey Grassia from the American startup "Shef". The two founders are pursuing the same vision with Shef in the USA. Shef made its big breakthrough just a few months ago and the startup is currently going through the roof. A dinner would definitely lead to very exciting and educational conversations for both parties.

Thank you very much for the interview.

About the founders: Slovenian-born Mario Dugonik studied kinesiology in Ljubljana and sports and fitness management in Berlin. After various stations in the field of kinesiology, fitness and nutrition, Mario decided to go on a 15-month trip around the world. Charged with new energy, borderline experiences and formative impressions, he founded the start-up HomeMeal together with co-founder Martin Schmidt. Before that, he had already gained one year of start-up experience at the fitness start-up VAHA.

Co-Founder Martin Schmidt previously studied communications engineering and was able to gain several years of experience as the head of a hardware and software department before starting his own business with various projects abroad. Then in February 2020, Martin came back to Germany from Southeast Asia to found Homemeal. Born out of the grievances that the Corona pandemic has brought to the restaurant industry, the two have developed a new and innovative concept that is revolutionizing the food start-up market.

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