2 Glendale entrepreneurs introduce home-cooked meal site, await changes in law

Two Glendale entrepreneurs want to crowd-source home-cooked meals and have created an online service to connect neighborhood cooks with busy eaters, although the technology they use to connect users is currently a step ahead of state legislation that would regulate the new industry.

Earlier this year, Glendale residents Ani Torosyan and Susanna Saponjyan co-founded DishDivvy, a website, and soon an online app, that lets users purchase meals prepared in the home kitchens of neighborhood cooks.

Torosyan, the company’s chief executive, said she was inspired by watching her mother-in-law cook “enough food to feed an army.”

She said she felt residents in her neighborhood and elsewhere should be able to enjoy the fresh food of their next-door culinary wizards.

By June, Torosyan, who has a background in engineering and product management, had begun to research the regulatory landscape for micro-enterprise home kitchens and the demand for such services.

“It turns out a lot of people are struggling with what we call the dinner dilemma of how to get good food on the table in a quick way,” she said. “We are not only crowdsourcing the amazing talent in our communities, but also giving the consumer an opportunity to eat better and go back to eating traditional homemade food.”

The 20 local home cooks participating in the service have resulted in transactions across diverse groups, with traditional American eaters often purchasing Armenian dishes from their neighbors, Tarosyan said.

DishDivvy only serves the Glendale area for now. The hope is to bring additional cooks onboard throughout the Los Angeles area, but the startup founders will have to wait on some legal hurdles that currently limit their concept for innovation in the food market.

In 2012, the California Homemade Food Act was signed into law. The legislation, introduced by former Assemblyman Mike Gatto, lets home cooks manufacture “low-risk” foods, such as those not requiring refrigeration, from their home.

However, there is no state law or local ordinance that currently allows for home cooks to sell “high-risk” food to neighbors because permits and licenses for commercial food preparation are only given to kitchens that meet restaurant safety standards, such as proper ventilation, sterilization and drainage that most personal kitchens simply don’t have.

Torosyan said DishDivvy strictly conforms to safety standards outlined in Assembly Bill 626, pending legislation by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) that would authorize small-scale, home-cooking operations through “adequate regulations and requirements for food handling and safety.”

The recruitment process for DishDivvy cooks takes up to several weeks and includes a requirement that chefs participate in a kitchen inspection and carry a California Food Handler Card — a certificate that is necessary for all employees who are involved in the preparation, storage or food service.

Still, according to a spokesperson with the L.A. County Department of Public Health, “A food-service business operated by an individual of a private home where food is being prepared for a consumer does not constitute a food facility and therefore would be operating illegally.”

Torosyan said she understood the current barriers to her service, adding that one of the many challenges in trying to implement innovative ideas is that technology is almost always several steps ahead of policymaking.

She used AirBNB’s recent quarrels with local governments as an example.

Torosyan has connected with state and local officials to push support for legislation.

“DishDivvy is directly working with state- and local-level policymakers to ensure that Assembly Bill 626 passes the appropriate legislative channels and is consequently adopted as law, for regulating micro-enterprise home kitchen operations in the state of California,” Torosyan said. “We are also working with local … and county representatives to create a local ordinance which will demonstrate how the legislative language written in AB626 can be implemented on a municipality level.”

Should food-safety inspection and enforcement catch up with micro-enterprise home kitchens, Torosyan said cooks can benefit from the supplemental income.

DishDivvy helps home cooks price their meal offerings so that they receive a net earning of about $30 an hour. The platform takes 15% for marketing fees, and the cooks keep 85%, according to Torosyan.

“We’re looking for any cook who has a passion for cooking and someone who wants to make supplemental income while making food for the community,” Torosyan said.

jeff.landa@latimes.com

Twitter: @JeffLanda

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