In a second-story loft above Broadway in Oakland, nestled behind an art gallery and a co-working space, a half-eaten pan of cake rests on a counter. Rows of smiling portraits—photos of this startup’s chief asset—border the room’s red brick walls. An unadorned white sign at the entryway featuring a black-and-white sketch of an ordinary house reads, “Josephine: Home cooked food from people in your area.”
It’s an accurate introduction to Josephine, an Oakland-based food startup that lets home cooks profit from their culinary creations by selling to their neighbors. Hungry customers navigate Josephine’s website, sift through a variety of home-cooked meals and snacks—from pho to German pretzels—and pick up dinner from nearby chefs within minutes.
“The essential part of the experience is the actual picking up of the food,” said spokesman Simone Stolzoff, because it cultivates intimacy. “It’s a way to fill in the blank spaces of your mental map of your neighborhood and build community in that way. Food is just the vehicle through which people are brought together.”
Ultimately, said Stolzoff, the driving force behind the company is a desire for empowerment, providing cooks with the platform and tools to develop their own mini-enterprises.
“There are a lot of companies out here that are trying to serve consumers and feed people faster, better, healthier, more efficiently, but there weren’t many companies serving the cooks,” Stolzoff said. “The idea was to build a company that’s cook-oriented, really affording people that love to cook the opportunity to start a small business out of their own kitchen.”
While Josephine may eschew convenience in favor of community, its ambition is anything but local. With cooks operating in San Francisco, the South Bay and throughout Southern California, the startup has recently expanded to Portland and Seattle.
The company had to pause operations in Alameda county this May when Josephine cooks were served with cease-and-desist orders for illegal food sales. In response, Josephine has not only changed their business model, but is also working with California Assemblymember Cheryl Brown to to draft new legislation, Assembly Bill 2593, that legalizes a broader scope of products for home-based food companies. It was introduced to the California state legislature this past February, and if passed, could be implemented as soon as 2017.
Despite these recent hurdles, Stolzoff is confident that Josephine’s role in the blossoming East Bay startup scene will be essential to the company’s future.
“There’s a real opportunity in the tech scene in Oakland to create a brand that’s distinct from the growth-oriented tech culture of the South Bay and San Francisco,” he said. “There’s a level of consciousness and social awareness in Oakland that we’re proud to be a part of. We’re involved in shaping how tech can be a force for good in society.”