With Silicon Valley in its backyard and the riches of California’s farms all around it, the San Francisco Bay area provides what is arguably the perfect intersection of food and technology. So, it should be no surprise that the Bay is also a hotbed for start-ups in this very busy business sector. From Munchery to Cozymeal, Feastly to CookApp ( of course, there had to be an app for that, especially here in the Bay) a plethora of choices have popped up in the past several years for diners who are looking to explore restaurant alternatives that offer great food. The market has even attracted the attention of the global community dining company, EatWith.com, which, according to a September 18, 2104 TechCrunch article, “now has more than 500 hosts in 160 cities and 30 countries around the world” and moved its base office to San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood from Tel Aviv a little over a year after its launch. Some of these offer peer-to-peer dining a la Airbnb, others focus on group cooking lessons where you eat what you and your friends prepare, some send a private chef to your home and still others have a meal-in-a-box concept, like Blue Apron. This market sector is as busy as a kitchen full of chefs!
One of the early entries into the food-meets-tech sector was Kitchit, which launched October 1, 2011, as an innovative service, with a mission “to transform the way people eat at home, powered by outstanding food and service from chefs”. Bay area private chefs were excited. Here was a great platform to connect them to clients; one that was professional, seemingly understood their talent and allowed them to focus on creating great food while it focused on marketing it. So excited, in fact, that by the time Kitchit folded its Marketplace with a surprise announcement to its chefs yesterday, there were over 150 chefs participating in Kitchit Marketplace in the SF Bay area, alone. Numerous chefs in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago were affected as well.
The closing Kitchen of Marketplace was announced to chefs via this email from Kitchit management, “we have made the difficult but important decision to focus our company’s work exclusively on our Kitchit Tonight “service [which allows] diners choose from seasonal prix-fixe menus and [be] matched with a local Kitchit Chef post booking. … Centralized menu creation, ingredient sourcing, and prep cooking, allow[s] chefs to simply pick up their mise en place (this is the practice of setting out all your ingredients, prepped and ready for use) and execute the meal. This transition will effectively close our other service, the Chef Marketplace” [citing] the market response to Kitchit Tonight [as having] so outpaced our expectations that we find our team wholly consumed by that half of the business.”
So what happened? In October 2014 received “$7.5 million in funding led by Javelin Venture Partners to make its chefs available to more users in more places” (according to a Dec 9 2014 article in Tech Crunch), on the heels of its launch of Kitchit Tonight, a weekday service offering a 3-course meal and preset menu for the prix fixée of $39 per person. This launch may have been in response to competitor Kitchensurfing bringing on Jon Tien from Zynga as new CEO just after raising $15M, according to a Dec 3, 2014 Tech Crunch report. Kitchensurfing offers “weeknight dinners for $25 per person. Prepared in your home by a personal chef” and has experienced exponential growth. Since its founding sources say, “thousands of chefs have joined, and more than 100,000 people have experienced a Kitchensurfing meal” and the comanay has a presence in multiple markets including New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, but interestingly, not in San Francisco, which, perhaps, is an indication that Kitchit successfully fended them off with the launch of Kitchit Tonight. Investors in Kitchit have to have been watching very carefully to see what would happen as Tien took the reins. The funding round brought Kitchensurfing’s total funding to $19.5 million. “The company would not comment on valuation, but a source familiar with the round said it was at least $40 million” (Tech Crunch, Dec. 9, 2014). Kitchit’s total funding to date is $8.1M, we could find no information about market valuation.
Kitchit Marketplace chefs were confused with the launch of Kitchit Tonight, which they felt competed on the very same website with the bespoke cuisine they offered, and that Kitchit Tonight lowered the bar. With the effiencies of its own commissary kitchen, the ability to buy in bulk, and paying chefs $30/ hour with a 3 hour max and no compensation for travel costs/time, it seemed like a lose-lose for chefs who were used to commanding anywhere from $50-$100 per person, and even more, and managing their own labor costs, purchasing and menus. Many saw a significant decreased in revenue from a source that some had come to rely upon as their primary income stream as Kitchit Tonight attracted customers who might have requested a chef from the Kitchit Marketplace. Kitchit’s marketing push was clearly on their new offer, they even shocked San Franciscans with fake parking tickets, sparking and SF Eater story with the provocative title, Culinary Startup’s Meter Morons Blanket SF Cars With Fake Parking Tickets.
So, did pressure from investors contribute to the demise of the Kitchit Marketplace? No way to know… What we do know is that the folding of Kitchit Marketplace is contributing to, if not the demise, the serious diminishment of an important income stream for many Bay area chefs, according to a source close to the group. The laments from Bay area chefs are palatable:
Chef Rose Johnson is one of these, “Yesterday I was in shock starting from the quake (a 4.0 shaker woke us up in the Bay at 6:48 a.m.) in the morning to the ending of our livelihood in the afternoon.”
Chef Deborah Dal Fovo, spoke of “What a huge disappointment it is to hear the news today. Especially before the holidays. Fortunately, we all know that there are lots of clients who love our Marketplace service but unfortunately we are now disconnected” and went on to say how, “Kitchit’s Chef Marketplace offered a unique and valuable service to clients who desired high end quality private chefs to rare connection between clients looking for 4 star private chefs to entertain with elegance in the privacy of their home
For Chef Ira Siegel of I. Siegel Catering in Campbell, ” The mere access to these clients.. was priceless…. Kitchit Marketplace gave us the opportunity to showcase our talents and our craft to a myriad of clients. It afforded the client not only a restaurant quality meal but an experience…and… allowed us as artisans to share our craft and love of food as well as present and execute artistically. It gave us access to clientele that not only dined in the top restaurants but wanting a meal not available or unique.”
What Chef Christopher Wong found out with Kitchit Marketplace is “that there are a lot of people from all walks of life who simply love food, great company and respect what creative and passionate chefs do. To be able to have that experience in their homes was a luxury and a great gift to their guests and themselves”.
Chef Derek Burns saw Kitchit’s Marketplace, as “a rare chance [for the diner] to have stellar chefs create restaurant quality experiences in their homes, with it’s closing those gourmands are left to prefab meals and traditional catering…a different sort of throwback.
New York City-based Dana Marisa Schoenfeld puts it this way, “I worked for the most generous, enthusiastic and sophisticated clients who are busy executives or exhausted parents who were genuinely thrilled to be able to enjoy the company of their guests in their own home while they shared restaurant quality meals. Kitchit Marketplace helped friends, coworkers, and foodies share delicious food in the privacy and comfort of their own homes. Believe me, they were appreciative!!”
It will be interesting to see if the brand can maintain its reputation for great food, for which there are no shortcuts. One chef who took on a Kitchit Tonite gig shared his experience, “Last time I cooked, they sent me on a 35min drive in 93° [weather] with a piece of albacore which smelled like tuna, not bad tuna, but fresh fish is almost odorless and no ice for a VIP who was expecting fresh ahi!”