After gathering groceries one Tuesday morning, former chef Fletcher Starkey, 31, began preparing his favorite feast: Thai-style salad with marinated steak and green beans.
Since June, Starkey's office has been a San Francisco rental kitchen, and his hours are what he wants them to be. He now makes his living by preparing forty 100 dishes a day for customers who drive in from all over the Peninsula and San Francisco.
“I was thinking of working for a small catering company, but I wanted something flexible and creative,” said Starkey.
And he found that something—and lots of customers—at Gobble.com, an online food marketplace.
Palo Alto-based Gobble, which launched in May, describes the concept as “peer-to-peer lasagna.” It invites chefs to lasso local foodies with dishes ranging from an Ethiopian vegetarian platter to lime and honey glazed salmon. Pre-selected chefs stretch from the seasoned, like Starkey, to those who have just arrived in the U.S. and would otherwise have a hard time reaching customers.
“The home cooks represent ‘invisible inventory,’ or a market that has yet to be tapped,” said Eric Paley, managing partner at the Founder Collective, which invested in Gobble the day after Thanksgiving in 2010. “For me, it was something I wish existed.”
So did Gobble's CEO and founder Ooshma Garg, 24, a busy Stanford biomechanical engineering graduate craving a change from nightly take-out. Named one of Inc.’s 30 under 30, Garg already had one successful startup behind her. She founded the networking platform Anapata in her junior year at Stanford.
Garg informally surveyed her friends and neighbors, and went on to raise more than $1.2 million from angel investors, such as founder Reid Hoffman, before jumpstarting the company in a spacious, sunlit office on California Avenue.
“We’re providing a plethora of healthy meals for busy people,” said Garg.
A complete meal ranges from $8-$24, including taxes and fees, said Garg, with the average coming to $12. There are two central pick-up locations in Palo Alto and San Francisco, or customers can pay a flat $10 fee to have the meal delivered to their doorsteps.
Customers order at least 24 hours in advance, giving chefs the time to shop for ingredients. But the offerings can change everyday.
To get on to Gobble, chefs not only submit their resumes but also a sampling of their cooking to the Gobble team. They also have to show that they have access to a commercial kitchen and a food handler’s permit.
“While restaurants are paying for overhead, we’re paying for quality,” said Garg.
Gobble isn't just competing with restaurants. It's also competing with many other sites that also target foodies, such as
the much buzzed-about GrubHub, which connects users to local restaurants. But Gobble's USP is that it allows people to find chefs who cater to their specific preferences. Customers have the option to choose exactly how they'd like their food. They can check boxes for locally sourced or lactose-free meals, for example.
“It helps for customers to know where their food is coming from,” said Gobble chef Katherine Dacanay, 45, of Campbell, after preparing a spinach mushroom lasagna with béchamel sauce, and vegan sugar cookies.
Dacanay, founder of Ahh, Dessert, jumped into Gobble in June at the advice of a friend. “It’s been a gratifying experience,” said Dacanay, who sources organic herbs and ingredients from local farmers.
Gobble has four full-time employees but hopes to grow to eight in the next four months, said Garg. Her attempt to find the right people includes not only an interview but also a “culture fit dinner” and a two-week trial run in the Gobble offices.
Now Gobble—which continues to edge closer to making a profit, according to Garg— is planning to expand not just across the Bay Area but across the country. The site's getting the most requests from Seattle, Chicago, New York, Dallas and Los Angeles, as well as a smattering of small towns, she said.
But for now, Gobble's open for business in Silicon Valley.