Tech City: Home cooks sell meals through new website

Joel Ng's mother Nancy helped inspire DishNextDoor

Joel Ng's mother Nancy helped inspire DishNextDoor - Credit: Archant

Tech City is the third largest technology hub in the world, and it’s right on our doorstep. Each week, we bring you news from the thriving area around Old Street roundabout. This week, Sophie Inge talks to one of the founders of DishNextDoor, a website that allows talented home cooks to sell meals to their neighbours

Picture this: you’re stuck in rush-hour traffic on your way home after a long day at the office. When you finally get there, with barely enough time to sleep, let alone eat, the last thing you feel like doing is cooking.

To make matters worse, the smell of your neighbours’ delicious homemade evening meal wafts through the window, making your stomach grumble.

This was an all too familiar scenario for strategist Bob Conwell, 31, and designer Joel Ng, 29, who regularly worked 12-hour days at a consultancy firm.

Then one day it occurred to them that there were lots of talented home cooks out there – some living right next door – who love sharing food with others.

One of them was Joel’s mother, who is from Malaysia.

“She cooks the most amazing Malaysian food,” said Mr Conwell. “She always talked about selling her food but never really had the time, money or know-how to go and do it.”

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With this in mind, the pair quit their jobs last summer to start DishNextDoor with their friend Agnieska Kij, 36, the former head of e-commerce at Net-a-Porter.

The website is designed to bring together home cooks, like Nancy, and tired overworked Londoners – like themselves.

Set to launch on Monday, it will allow cooks to sell homemade meals to their neighbours at low prices.

“We thought there were so many people like Nancy who have amazing skills in the kitchen, and that maybe we could create a way for them to make a bit of money by using their passion,” said Mr Conwell.

But not just anyone can sign up: “We take hygiene very seriously – it’s crucial to any food business.”

All cooks, he explained, have to take Hygiene Level 2, which is a free training course. They then register their address with the council’s environmental health department.

So far, around 25 cooks living in Stoke Newington have signed up – including an Indian nun and an Israeli woman who used to own a cake shop in Tel Aviv.

“So far, we have people from every continent apart from Australasia,” said Mr Conwell.

Others include a vegan cook and a person with celiac disease who cooks gluten-free.

After registering, the next important part is a taste test at the cook’s home.

“We want to make sure the food quality standards are really high in terms of taste,” said Mr Conwell. “But it’s also an opportunity to do a visual check of the premises and to make sure there are no obvious issues.”

Cooks can then create a listing for their dishes on the website, which includes the ingredients, a description and photos. Customers then enter their postcode, select the dish they want and pay through the website.

Meals cost between £6 and £9 – it’s up to the cooks to price them – and they receive 80 per cent of the total.

After the launch in Stoke Newington, Hackney, the team plans to expand across east and north London in the coming months.

“There’s something particular about Stoke Newington that makes it an interesting area to launch a food business,” said Mr Conwell. “There are amazing food communities already there including [food community project] Made in Hackney and the [Hackney Wick] Food Assembly.”

At present, the website is self-funded, but the team hopes to find future investment so that they can scale it up.

“In the future, we’d love to do event catering and possibly even merchandising. But our immediate focus is making it work in Stoke Newington and having the cooks enjoy what they do. Everything is set up for them to be successful.”

To find out more visit the DishNextDoor website.

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