By Brittany Meiling The San Diego Union-Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Through "Cook Casa,"people can book local chefs to come to them and create an in-home dining experience.
A San Diego startup that connects chefs with people wanting an in-home dining experience has just won $7,500 for taking first place in a local pitch competition.
The startup, called Cook Casa, is tapping into a pool of unemployed chefs and cooks who are suffering from the pandemic's shutdown of restaurants and leveraging the talent in a new way.
Cook Casa is currently a website — soon to be mobile app — where San Diegans can book a personal chef to create an in-home dining experience that's potentially safer than the crowded dining rooms of restaurants. Founder Anayo Nworjih said customers are missing out on one major factor now that restaurant dining is limited: the experience. The idea for Cook Casa is to bridge the gap between takeout or delivery, which can arrive at your home soggy or cold, and in-person restaurant dining. "At the end of the day, it's about an experience," Nworjih said. "You don't expect an experience from Uber Eats." On the Cook Casa website, customers can book a chef to come to their home with all the equipment and ingredients necessary to prepare a meal, serve the dish and take care of the cleanup. The average per-person cost is $75. Cook Casa makes money by charging a 20 percent fee on each transaction. Cook Casa was the first place winner of a startup competition hosted by a diversity-focused incubator called Connect All at the Jacobs Center in Southeast San Diego. The competition is the culmination of a 7-month-long program during which entrepreneurs got access to a , along with educational workshops and a network of mentors. Funded by a $2.5 million grant secured by the City of San Diego, the program specifically serves underrepresented founders. The competition was financially backed by Union Bank, which has supported the program since its launch in 2018. "We were really impressed by Cook Casa's business model, the plan for responsible growth, and plans to keep local chefs employed," said Gil Kennedy Union Bank vice president and a judge during the competition. "Anayo has identified a gap in the market and a need for on-demand chefs and responded by creating something perfectly suited to address the need." This is the first entrepreneurial pursuit for Nworjih, a former marketing and sales manager in finance and publishing. Although Nworjih has no professional background in the restaurant or catering industry, he said he pulled inspiration from his family life. His father, from Nigeria, and his mother, from Texas, created a home full of multi-cultural foods and group meals shared among neighbors and friends. "Food is the truest expression of any culture, and it transcends borders," Nworjih said. "Food has always been important to me; sharing it with family or learning about different cultures through food." Nworjih said he hopes Cook Casa will bring new cultural experiences into people's lives, as well as bring the community of the dining-out experience back into the home. Cook Casa currently has 42 chefs in its network online and has generated $45,000 in revenue since it's launch in January. Nworjih said he plans to use the competition winnings to invest in advertising, the website's development, and legal services. ___ (c)2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune Visit The San Diego Union-Tribune at www.sandiegouniontribune.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.