NEW YORK (FOX 5 NEWS) - A new app is delivering home-cooked meals right to your door. And one of its co-founders has a family history in New York-based hospitality.
Hallie Meyer, daughter of Union Square Hospitality Group CEO Danny Meyer, co-founded Umi Kitchen while in college. She and her partner originally thought their customer would be other young people hungry for a home-cooked meal.
But since launching Umi Kitchen this spring, they discovered that busy couples and families are also looking for some help putting dinner on the table, and they want something healthier and homier than takeout.
Hallie Meyer describes Umi Kitchen as a home-cooked meal delivery service, and says they work with incredibly passionate home cooks who prepare signature dishes in small batches with a level of care you won't find anywhere else.
They deliver those meals right to your door, using an iOS app that shows the day's offerings: everything from Whole 30 to Paleo to authentic North Indian food. That North Indian food was on the stove when we talked with Hallie about Umi, which is Arabic for "my mother."
The business was born at Yale, where Hallie met her co-founder, Khalil Tawil, a fellow student who was dying for his mom's home cooking. Khalil posted an ad on Craigslist saying he was craving a home-cooked meal, and offering to pay someone between $8 and $15 to cook for him. That ad led to a series of successful Umi trials in New Haven over about 7 weeks.
Khalil and Hallie teamed up with Derek Gottfrid, formerly of Tumblr, to handle technology and the app. They brought Umi to New York this spring. They launched a pilot in Brooklyn last April and came to Manhattan on September 13.
Umi Kitchen has a network of more than 40 home cooks who offer between 4- and 7-meal options every night, Sunday through Thursday. Those meals range from lifestyle meals like paleo short ribs and vegan quinoa, to home-style meals like lasagna, and world style meals like Thai curry.
During our shoot, Shalini Singh showed us the chana masala she makes at her home in Brooklyn Heights. Shalini grew up in India eating simple, traditional Indian food. When she came to the United States she realized you could get a lot of Indian food in the restaurants here, but it wasn't home-style Indian food, which, she says, is completely different. Shalini got into cooking because she wanted her family to have healthy Indian home-cooked food, and also wanted to share it with the world.
Umi also likes to share, showing its cooks' photos and bios on the app so customers can get to know them better. Hallie says that is one reason why Umi is different than your typical takeout experience. Customers know the person who made their food, which is all cooked in small batches with a level of care that Hallie believes you can't get from traditional delivery.
Umi meals are also delivered with a handwritten note. Cooks will explain that they swapped out kale for cabbage because they thought the cabbage looked so great at the market. Hallie says those little details make customers feel like there really was someone cooking that meal with intention.
All of Umi's cooks are ServSafe certified, held to the same standards as professional kitchens. The meals cost $12, $14, or $16, plus $4 for Postmates delivery.
And the business has impressive financial backing. The Sweetgreen founders, SoulCycle creator Elizabeth Cutler, and Danny Meyer (Hallie's Dad) of Shake Shack fame are all investors. Hallie says she really appreciates having her dad in her corner, rooting for them. There isn't a day that goes by that she doesn't shoot ideas by him or ask him questions, she says.
But Hallie is a foodie in her own right, starting a catering business with the Yale Sustainable Food Program while in college, and winning Iron Chef Yale twice. In fact, in the Meyer House, Hallie is considered the Umi. When she left for college, she says, her parents hired a cook a couple of nights a week. The Umi had left the house!
For now, Umi is available in Brooklyn from Red Hook up to Greenpoint and all the way out to Bushwick.
In Manhattan, Umi serves the East Side from East Houston up to 116th Street, east of 5th Avenue.
But Hallie says she has over 400 applications from prospective Umis, several on the West Side, and expansion is definitely on the horizon.