Umi Kitchen set its sights to become the Uber of home dining. The start-up company’s business strategy was to use a mobile app to connect diners to home cooks to sell homemade meals in their neighborhoods. Yet just four months after gaining start-up funding, Umi Kitchen suspended its New York operations.[1]

While Umi Kitchen founders regroup, industry analysts speculate whether the shared economy will work for home cooks. The idea of having home-cooked meals created locally and delivered quickly is enticing, but health regulations present challenges to companies trying to develop this business model.

Many cities have delivery-only food services available. These models enable diners to place restaurant orders using a mobile app or website, usually in 30 minutes or less.[2] The major challenge of extending this model from restaurants to home cooks is that many cities and states have strict food preparation and safety regulations. These laws require the use of a commercial kitchen for the preparation of food sold to the public.[3]

Josephine, an online marketplace that assists home cooks in establishing small take-out food businesses, ran into health regulation obstacles in the San Francisco Bay area. The city of Berkeley and Alameda County, California, issued cease-and-desist letters to Josephine last year.[4]

Josephine decided to work with lawmakers to change the regulations. Two California Democratic Assembly members sponsored a bill earlier this year to create a new category of food preparation facility in the California Health and Safety code for homemade food operation.[5] The bill is under committee review[6] and its outcome will be closely watched in California and across the country. 

[1] “The food startup backed by Shake Shack creator Danny Meyer has stalled out after just 4 months,” by Anita Balakrishnan, CNBC.com, Jan. 17, 2017. Available at: http://www.cnbc.com/2017/01/17/danny-meyer-backed-startup-umi-kitchen-stalls-after-4-months.html

[2] “Food For Thought: How Delivery-Only Food Service Is Impacting Retail Real Estate,” by Mallory Beberman and Dan Rottenberg, RetailLawAdvisor.com, Sept. 28, 2016. Available at: http://www.retaillawadvisor.com/2016/09/28/food-for-thought-how-delivery-only-food-service-is-impacting-retail-real-estate/

[3] “The Food-Sharing Economy is Delicious and Illegal – Will It Survive?” by Sarah Kessler, Fast Company, July 7, 2016. Available at: https://www.fastcompany.com/3061498/the-food-sharing-economy-is-delicious-and-illegal-will-it-survive

[4] “Homemade food-sharing startup Josephine makes another attempt to legalize its business in CA,” by Meagan Rose Dickey, Tech Crunch blog, Feb. 15, 2017. Available at: https://techcrunch.com/2017/02/15/food-sharing-startup-josephine-sponsors-homemade-meal-sales-bill/

[5] “Homemade food-sharing startup Josephine makes another attempt to legalize its business in CA,” by Meagan Rose Dickey, Tech Crunch blog, Feb. 15, 2017. Available at: https://techcrunch.com/2017/02/15/food-sharing-startup-josephine-sponsors-homemade-meal-sales-bill/

[6] AB-626 bill status available at California Legislative Information website at: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billStatusClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180AB626

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