Thaddeus Elias Decaprio loves to cook. The 2015 culinary school graduate spent three years working in New York City-area restaurants before returning to school to obtain a master’s degree and turning to nonprofit work.
Then COVID-19 hit. It shut down New York City’s restaurant scene. The Syrian-Italian chef found an outlet.
“I turned back to food and heard about WoodSpoon,” he told Modern Shipper. “There were always things I wanted to cook but there wasn’t a market for it.”
WoodSpoon offers something different from the ghost kitchen craze that has dominated the food market. The 1-year-old startup is giving people like Decaprio, with cooking backgrounds, as well as the home chef who just has a favorite family recipe or two, the chance to sell their passion to an eager — and hungry — New York customer base.
“WoodSpoon is a marketplace for home cooks and people with home kitchens,” explained Lee Reshef, co-founder and chief revenue officer for the platform. “Instead of restaurants, you will find chefs cooking in their home kitchens.”
WoodSpoon provides an app and the technology to allow chefs like Decaprio to work when they want and, most importantly, cook what they want.
“WoodSpoon provides a lot more flexibility in terms of working hours and the types of foods you can make,” said Decaprio, who offers a menu of about seven dishes reflecting both his Syrian and Italian heritages. “It’s easier to make each one of those meals very well by having a compact menu.”
Decaprio said he likes to use fresh ingredients in his cooking. WoodSpoon, he noted, provides him a creative outlet to experiment.
“The first thought that crossed my mind when I put a dish on WoodSpoon was that if I was still chefing this would be a way to … test out a new product or a new dish,” he said.
Leftovers are not an issue for Decaprio, as any leftover food becomes meals for him, his friends or the local food collective.
Reshef said the inspiration for WoodSpoon came from her co-founder Oren Saar, who serves as CEO. Merav Kalish Rozengarten is the third co-founder and chief marketing officer. Saar conceived the idea while at college. He would regularly cook for his roommates but one day returned from classes too late to cook and the roommates didn’t want to order out. The idea of home-cooked meals delivered was born.
WoodSpoon received a $2 million seed round of funding in December, led by World Trade Ventures, according to Crunchbase. The company is only offering service in Manhattan and Brooklyn at this time. Customers are able to order through its app, available on Google Play and the App Store.
In a recent survey of 500 New Yorkers, the company found that 40% order in from restaurants or directly from a chef multiple times a week, with 63% saying that eating healthier, cleaner food was a top consideration. An additional 55% said they were interested in supporting home chefs, and 90% said they were open to trying new foods.
The company works with four delivery providers and splits its fees evenly between the chefs and delivery platforms. Reshef noted that the chefs are able to set their own prices for their dishes, giving them the opportunity to maintain a profit margin that is appropriate to them. WoodSpoon does provide guidelines on what constitutes a competitive price to assist them, Reshef said.
“We know from research that … people expect it to cost about the same as [restaurants],” she said.
The platform is designed to make the chefs the star of the show, and WoodSpoon tries to make it as easy as possible for them. The company sends WoodSpoon-branded packaging, handles the pickup and delivery, and processes payments. Chefs, who tell WoodSpoon what they want to cook and how many orders they can fill, are paid weekly based on what they sell.
Anyone can sign up to be a chef on the platform, although WoodSpoon does evaluate potential chefs “to be sure we are providing high-quality food,” Reshef said. She added that WoodSpoon has found ethnic foods sell particularly well.
“We have some that are doing it as a hobby and a passion, and we have chefs that are doing it as a full-time job,” Reshef said, adding that there are about 120 chefs currently on the platform. They range from professionals who use the platform to try new dishes before introducing them into their restaurants, to the home cook who just wishes to share a cherished family recipe.
Decaprio works part time, he said, cooking about three to four days every other week.
The flexibility is what I like about WoodSpoon. I’ve genuinely been having fun with it too. It’s reminded me a lot of my restaurant days, but without the stress.
Chef Thaddeus elias Decaprio
“The flexibility is what I like about WoodSpoon,” he said. “I’ve genuinely been having fun with it too. It’s reminded me a lot of my restaurant days but without the stress.”
For chefs looking to sign up, Decaprio said it’s a great platform on which “the food really does the talking.”
“You can use as many words as possible to tell the story, but in the end, the food should tell the story,” he said.
Like Reshef, Decaprio sees the e-commerce aspect of food delivery as a trend that is here to stay.
“I think the restaurant industry has been in need of changes for some time,” he said. “COVID really precipitated this process of change in a lot of ways; that’s why you see ghost kitchens becoming a lot more popular and platforms like WoodSpoon. As far as technology has progressed with apps and people wanting to get their food delivery, it’s a natural progression.”