Private chef parties at home startup Yhangry raises $1.5M Seed from VC angels and Ollie Locke

There’s an “uber for everything” these days and now there are “Ubers for personal chefs”. Just take a look at PopTop or 100 Pleats for instance. Now in London, there is Yhangry (which brands itself as the appropriately shouty YHANGRY). This is a “private chef parties at home” website, and no doubt an app at some point. The startup has now raised a $1.5 million Seed round from a number of notable UK angels which also includes a few UK VCs for good measure, as well as ‘Made In Chelsea’ TV star Ollie Locke.

Founders Heinin Zhang and Siddhi Mittal created the startup before the pandemic, which lets people order a made-to-measure dinner party online. Although it trundled along until Covid, it had to pivot into virtual chef classes during lockdowns last year and this. The company is now poised to take advantage of London’s unlocking, which will see legal outdoor and indoor dining return.

The startup also speaks to the decentralization of experiences going on in the wake of the pandemic. In 2019 we were working out in gyms and going to restaurants. In 2021 we are working out at home and bringing the restaurant to us.

Normally booking private dinner parties involves a lot of hassle. The idea here is that Yhangry makes the whole affair as easy to order as an Uber Eats or Deliveroo.

Investors in the Seed round include Carmen Rico (Blossom Capital), Eileen Burbidge (Passion Capital), Orson Stadler (Antler) and Martin Mignot (Index Ventures), Made In Chelsea star Ollie Locke, plus fellow tech founders including Jack Tang (Urban), Adnan Ebrahim (MindLabs), Alex Fitzgerald (Cuckoo Internet), Georgina Kirby (Vinehealth) and Deepali Nangia (Alma Angels). Yhangry’s statement said all the investors are also keen customers. I bet they are.

Co-founder Mittal said in a statement: “By making private chef experiences more accessible and affordable, our customers regularly tell us they are finally able to catch up with friends at home… 70% of our customers have never had a private chef before and for them, the freedom and flexibility to curate their own evening is priceless.”

Yhangry now has 130 chefs on its books. Chefs have to pass a cooking trial and adhere to Covid rules. The funding will be used to double the size of the startup’s team.

The menus start at £17pp for six people. The price of the booking covers everything, including the cost of the fresh ingredients, but customers can add extras, such as wine etc. Since its launch in December 2019, the firm says it has served more than 7,000 Londoners.

Yhangry says it will enter key European markets, such as Paris, Berlin, Lisbon and Barcelona.

How will Yhangry survive post-Covid, with restaurants/bars opening up again?

Mittal said: “When restaurants were open between our launch and March 2020, we saw demand because people want to be able to spend time with their friends in a relaxed setting, and aren’t limited to the two-hour slot you get in a restaurant. Once places start to open up again, we believe Yhangry will follow this trend of at-home dining and socializing – not to mention for people who are not ready yet to go out to a busy pub or restaurant.”

#articles, #barcelona, #berlin, #chef, #co-founder, #companies, #deliveroo, #economy, #eileen-burbidge, #europe, #lisbon, #london, #martin-mignot, #online-food-ordering, #paris, #passion-capital, #restaurant, #startup-company, #tc, #uber, #uber-eats, #united-kingdom

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Has a startup finally found one of food science’s holy grails with its healthy sugar substitute?

A little less than three years ago at the Computer Science Museum in Mountain View, Calif. the founders of a young company hailing from Cambridge, England addressed a crowd of celebrities, investors and entrepreneurs at Y Combinator’s August Demo Day promising a revolution in food science.

Over the years, the event has become a relatively low-tech, low-budget showcase for a group of tech investors and billionaire industry insiders to take a look at early stage businesses that could be their next billion-dollar opportunity.

Sharing the stage with other innovation-minded budding entrepreneurs the Cambridge scientists boasted of a technology could produce a sweetener that would mimic not just the taste of sugar, but the caramelization and stickiness that makes sugar the go-to additive for the bulk of roughly 74% of packaged foods that are made with some form of sweetener. Their company, Cambridge Glycoscience  could claim a huge slice of a market worth at least a $100 billion market, they said.

Now, the company has a new name, Supplant, and $24 million in venture capital financing to start commercializing its low-cost sugar substitute made from the waste materials of other plants.

 

The bitter history of the sweetest ingredient

Sugar came into the human diet roughly 10,000 years ago as sugarcane, which is native to New Guinea and parts of Taiwan and China. Over the next 2,000 years the crop spread from those regions to Madagascar and eventually took root in India, where it was first refined in about 500 BC.

From there, the sweetener spread across the known world. By the first century AD Greek and Roman scholars were referencing its medicinal properties and, after the Crusades, sugar consumption traveled across Europe through the Middle Ages.

It was a welcome replacement from Europe’s mainstay, honey, and the early artificial sweeteners used by the Romans, which contained near-lethal doses of lead.

The cold climates of Northern Europe proved mostly inhospitable to sugarcane cultivation so the root took root in the more temperate South and the islands off of Europe’s southern coast.

Those regions also became home to the first European experiments with agricultural slavery — a byproduct of the sugar trade, and one that would plant the seeds for the international exploitation of indigenous American and African labor for centuries as the industrial growth of sugar production spread to the New World.

First, European indentured servants and enslaved indigenous people’s powered the production of sugar in the Americas. But as native populations died off due to the introduction of European diseases, genocidal attacks, and back-breaking labor, African slaves were brought to the new colonies to work the fields and mills to make refined sugar.

Sugar hangover

The horrors of slavery may be the most damning legacy of industrial sugar, but it’s far from the only problem caused by the human craving for sweeteners.

As climate change becomes more of a threat, fears of increasing deforestation to meet the world’s demand — or to provide cover for other industrialization of virgin forests — have arisen thanks to new policies in Brazil.

“Conventional cane sugar is heavily heavily water intensive,” said Supplant co-founder Tom Simmons in an interview. That’s another problem for the environment as water becomes the next resource to be stressed by the currents of climate change. And species extinction presents another huge problem too.

“The WWF number one source for biodiversity lost globally is cane sugar plantations,” Simmons said. “Sugar is a massive consumer of water and in contrast, there’s big sustainability pitch for what we do.. the raw materials are products of the current agricultural industry.”

And the quest for sugar substitutes in the U.S. has come with related health costs as high fructose corn syrup has made its way into tons of American products. Invented in 1957, corn syrup is one of the most common sweeteners used to replace sugar — and one that’s thought to have incredibly disastrous effects on the health of consumers worldwide.

The use of corn syrup has been linked to an increasing prevalence of diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver disease, in the world’s population.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 08: In this photo illustration, products containing high sugar levels are on display at a supermarket on April 8, 2016 in Melbourne , Australia. The World Health Organisation’s first global report on diabetes found that 422 million adults live with diabetes, mainly in developing countries. Australian diabetes experts are urging the Federal Government to consider imposing a sugar tax to tackle the growing problem. (Photo by Luis Ascui/Getty Images)

Looking For A Healthier Substitute

As Supplant and its investors look to take the crown as the reigning replacement for sugar, they join a long line of would-be occupants to sugar’s throne.

The first viable, non-toxic chemically derived sugar substitute was discovered in the late 18th century by a German chemist. Called saccharine it was popularized initially during sugar shortages caused by the first World War and gained traction during the health crazes of the sixties and seventies.

Saccharin, still available in pink Sweet n’ Low packets and a host of products, was succeeded by aspartame (known commercially as Equal and present as the sugar substitute in beverages like Diet Coke), which was supplanted by sucralose (known as Splenda).

These chemically derived sweeteners have been the standard on the market for decades now, but with a growing push for natural — rather than chemical — substitutes for sugar and their failures to act as a replacement for all of the things that sugar can do as a food ingredient, the demand for a better sugar has never been higher.

Supplanting the competition 

“Not everything that we back is going to change the world. This, at scale, does that.” said Aydin Senkut, the founder and managing partner of Felicis Ventures, the venture firm that’s one of Supplant’s biggest backers. 

Part of what convinced Senkut is the fact that Supplant’s sweetener has already received preliminary approvals in the European Union by the region’s regulatory equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration. That approval not only covers the sale of Supplant’s product as a sweetener, but also as a probiotic with tangible health benefits he said.

So not only is the Supplant product arguably a better and more direct sugar replacement, as the founders claim, it also has health benefits through providing increased fiber in consumers who use it regularly, Senkut said.

“The European FDA is even stricter than the U.S. FDA,” Senkut said. “[And] they got pre-approval for this.”

Senkut and Felicis invested in Cambridge Glycosciences almost immediately after seeing the company’s presentation at Y Combinator.

“We became the largest investors at seed,” Senkut said.

Its selling points were the products extremely low glycemic index and its ability to be manufactured from waste plant fibers, which means that it ultimately can be produced at a lower cost, according to Senkut.

What’s the difference? 

Supplant differs from its competition in a number of other key ways, according to company co-founder Tom Simmons.

While companies like the Israeli startup DouxMatok or Colorado’s MycoTechnology and Wisconsin’s Sensient work on developing additives from fungus or tree roots or bark that can enhance the sweetness of sugars, Supplant uses alternative sugars to create its sweetener, Simmons said. 

“The core difference is they’re working with cane sugar,” according to Simmons. “Our pitch is we make sugars from fiber so you don’t need to use cane sugar.”

Simmons said that these other startups have been approaching the problem from the wrong direction. “The problem that their technology addresses isn’t the problem the industry has,” Simmons said. “It’s about texture, bulking, caramelization and crystallization… We have a technology that’s going to give you the same sweetness gram for gram.”

There are six different types of calorific sugar, Simmons explained. There’s lactose, which is the sugar in milk; sucrose, which comes from sugarcane and sugar beets; maltose, found in grains like wheat and barley; fructose, the sugar in fruits and honey; glucose, which is in nearly everything, but especially carbohydrate-laden vegetables, fruits, and grains; and galactose, a simple sugar that derives from the breakdown of lactose.

Simmons said that his company’s sugar substitute isn’t based on one compound, but is derived from a range of things that come from fiber. The use of fibers means that the body recognizes the compounds as fibrous and treats them the same way in the digestive tract, but the products taste and act like sugar in food, he said. “Fiber derived sugars are in the category of sugars, but are not the calorific sugars,” said Simmons.

NEW YORK – DECEMBER 6: Packets of the popular sugar substitute Splenda are seen December 6, 2004 in New York City. The manufacturer of sucralose, the key ingredient in the no-calorie sweetener, says demand is so high for the product that it will not be able to take on new U.S. customers until it doubles production in 2006. Splenda has been boosted by the popularity of the low-sugar Atkins diet. (Photo Illustration by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Trust the process? 

Supplant’s technology uses enzymes to break down and fragment various fibers. “As you start breaking it down, it starts looking molecularly like sucrose — like cane sugar — so it starts behaving in a similar way,” said Simmons.

This is all the result of years of research that Simmons began at Cambridge University, he said. “I arrived at Cambridge intending to be a professor. I did not arrive in Cambridge intending to start a business. I was interested in doing science, making inventions and stuff that would reach the wider world. I always imagined the right way for me to do that was to be a professor.”

In time, after receiving his doctorate and beginning his post-doctoral work into the research that would eventually turn into Supplant, Simmons realized that he had to start a company. “To try and do something impactful I was going to have leave the university,” he said. 

In some ways, Supplant operates at the intersection of all of Simmons’ interests in health, nutrition, and sustainability. And he said the company has plans to apply the processing technology across a range of consumer products eventually, but for now the company remains focused on the $100 billion sugar substitute market.

“There’s a handful of different core underlying scientific approaches in different spaces,” he said. The sort of things that go into personal care and homecare. Those chemicals. A big drive in the industry is for both less harsh and harsh chemicals in shampoos but also to do so in a way that’s sustainable. That’s made form a sustainable source but also biodegradable.”

Next steps 

With the money that the company has now raised from investors including Bonfire Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Felicis, Soma Capital, and Y Combinator, Supplant is now going to prove its products in a few very targeted test runs.* The first is a big launch with a celebrity chef, which Simmons teased, but did not elaborate on.

Senkut said that the company’s roll out would be similar to the ways in which Impossible Foods went to market. Beginning with a few trial runs in higher end restaurants and foodstuffs before trying to make a run at a mass consumer market.

The feedstocks for Supplant’s sugar substitute come from sugar cane bagasse, wheat and rice husks, and the processing equipment comes from the brewing industry. That’s going to be a benefit as the company looks to build out an office in the U.S. as it establishes a foothold for a larger manufacturing presence down the line.

“We’re taking known science and applying it in the food industry where we know that it has value,” Simmons said. “We’re not inventing any brand new enzymes and each part of the process — none of it on their own are new. The discovery that these sugars work well and can replace cane sugar. That’s someone that no one has done before. Most sugars don’t behave like cane sugar in food. They’re too dry, they’re too wet, they’re too hard, they’re too soft.”

Ultimately the consumer products mission resonates highly for Simmons and his twenty person team. “We’re going to use these hugely abundant renewable resources produced all around the world,” he said. 

*This story was updated to include Bonfire Ventures and Khosla Ventures as investors in Supplant.

#aydin-senkut, #brazil, #california, #cambridge-university, #chef, #chemicals, #china, #co-founder, #colorado, #consumer-products, #douxmatok, #europe, #european-union, #felicis-ventures, #food, #food-and-drink, #food-and-drug-administration, #food-ingredient, #impossible-foods, #india, #managing-partner, #soma-capital, #sugar, #taiwan, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #venture-capital-financing, #wisconsin, #y-combinator

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Nomad’s charcoal grill suitcase is modern ingenuity combined with classic cooking

Dallas-based Nomad set out to take an age-old cooking method and modernize it – but not by introducing connected or smart features. Instead, the Nomad Grill & Smoker takes classic charcoal grilling and relies on clever industrial design to make it packable and portable, while making sure cooks of all expertise levels can make great-tasting food even if they’re cooking with charcoal for the first time.

Basics

Nomad’s grill looks like some kind of fancy protective case that you’d expect to see traveling with a film crew, crossed with maybe a modern Mac Pro. It has an anodized aluminum build that uses a unibody casting in manufacturing, with high external durability and internal heat retention. It measures roughly 2 feet by 2 foot, and is around 9.5 inches tall when closed, with a total weight of 28 lbs including the cast stainless steel grill grate that’s included int the basic package.

28 lbs may seem like a lot, but it’s remarkably light for the cook surface you get with Nomad, which adds up to either 212 square inches of space in single-grate closed mode (good for smoking) or up to 425 square inches in open grill mode, which can double the cooking surface with the purchase of an optional second grate and charcoal placed in either side (better for open flame BBQing).

The case features a strong and durable dual latch closure system, and a reinforced handle for toting it around. Silicon skids offer protection for surfaces when laying the grill down to cook, and there are two magnetic air vents on either side for controlling airflow and flame, which are adjusted simply by manually sliding.

Design and performance

Image Credits: Nomad

The Nomad design is deceptively simple – at heart it’s essentially a metal box. But looking below the surface a bit, it actually hides some very advanced construction, including a layered shell design that means the outside never actually gets too hot, which is great not only for chef safety but also for setting it down on a wide range of materials during the actual cook process. For a portable grill, that’s a huge benefit.

Looking at the grill grate specifically, it features a honeycomb design that helps better distribute the heat, which is also domed subtly to allow more clearance for the charcoal underneath. It’s removable, but also snaps into place in the grill itself using magnets, which is great for transport and also for ensuring things don’t move around with any bumps.

One other huge benefit that seems like a small thing at first glance is a built-in thermometer that’s molded into the case. This provides you easy, clear temperature readings for the grill, and it’s analog so there’s no power required – another big benefit for portability.

In practice, the grill works exactly as you’d expect a great charcoal grill to work, which is amazing given its size and portability. It should definitely be mentioned that you’re going to be much happier getting the grill lit if you pick yourself up a charcoal chimney, which eases the lighting process – but that’s a great accessory regardless what kind of charcoal grill you’re using.

Image Credits: Nomad

I was particularly impressed at the Nomad grill’s performance when it comes to smoking. It maintains an even and consistent temperature with the box closed, and it’s easy to moderate the temperature with the built-in vents if you need to adjust the cooking intensity. The proximity of the charcoal to the food also imbues it with great flavor.

Bottom line

The Nomad Grill & Smoker is $599, which is a fairly high asking price, but it’s also unique in the market for the convenience it provides combined with the performance it offers. Whether at home or on road trips, Nomad is a wonderful addition to any home cook’s arsenal, and an all-in-one supplement that can replace even a dedicated, more fixed installation charcoal grill if that’s the way you want to go.

#barbecue, #chef, #cooking, #dallas, #food, #food-and-drink, #gadgets, #grill, #grilling, #hardware, #manufacturing, #nomad, #reviews, #smoking, #startups, #tc

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Fylamynt raises $6.5M for its cloud workflow automation platform

Fylamynt, a new service that helps businesses automate their cloud workflows, today announced both the official launch of its platform as well as a $6.5 million seed round. The funding round was led by Google’s AI-focused Gradient Ventures fund. Mango Capital and Point72 Ventures also participated.

At first glance, the idea behind Fylamynt may sound familiar. Workflow automation has become a pretty competitive space, after all, and the service helps developers connect their various cloud tools to create repeatable workflows. We’re not talking about your standard IFTTT- or Zapier -like integrations between SaaS products, though. The focus of Fylamynt is squarely on building infrastructure workflows. And while that may sound familiar, too, with tools like Ansible and Terraform automating a lot of that already, Fylamynt sits on top of those and integrates with them.

Image Credits: Fylamynt

“Some time ago, we used to do Bash and scripting — and then […] came Chef and Puppet in 2006, 2007. SaltStack, as well. Then Terraform and Ansible,” Fylamynt co-founder and CEO Pradeep Padala told me. “They have all done an extremely good job of making it easier to simplify infrastructure operations so you don’t have to write low-level code. You can write a slightly higher-level language. We are not replacing that. What we are doing is connecting that code.”

So if you have a Terraform template, an Ansible playbook and maybe a Python script, you can now use Fylamynt to connect those. In the end, Fylamynt becomes the orchestration engine to run all of your infrastructure code — and then allows you to connect all of that to the likes of DataDog, Splunk, PagerDuty Slack and ServiceNow.

Image Credits: Fylamynt

The service currently connects to Terraform, Ansible, Datadog, Jira, Slack, Instance, CloudWatch, CloudFormation and your Kubernetes clusters. The company notes that some of the standard use cases for its service are automated remediation, governance and compliance, as well as cost and performance management.

The company is already working with a number of design partners, including Snowflake

Fylamynt CEO Padala has quite a bit of experience in the infrastructure space. He co-founded ContainerX, an early container-management platform, which later sold to Cisco. Before starting ContainerX, he was at VMWare and DOCOMO Labs. His co-founders, VP of Engineering Xiaoyun Zhu and CTO David Lee, also have deep expertise in building out cloud infrastructure and operating it.

“If you look at any company — any company building a product — let’s say a SaaS product, and they want to run their operations, infrastructure operations very efficiently,” Padala said. “But there are always challenges. You need a lot of people, it takes time. So what is the bottleneck? If you ask that question and dig deeper, you’ll find that there is one bottleneck for automation: that’s code. Someone has to write code to automate. Everything revolves around that.”

Fylamynt aims to take the effort out of that by allowing developers to either write Python and JSON to automate their workflows (think ‘infrastructure as code’ but for workflows) or to use Fylamynt’s visual no-code drag-and-drop tool. As Padala noted, this gives developers a lot of flexibility in how they want to use the service. If you never want to see the Fylamynt UI, you can go about your merry coding ways, but chances are the UI will allow you to get everything done as well.

One area the team is currently focusing on — and will use the new funding for — is building out its analytics capabilities that can help developers debug their workflows. The service already provides log and audit trails, but the plan is to expand its AI capabilities to also recommend the right workflows based on the alerts you are getting.

“The eventual goal is to help people automate any service and connect any code. That’s the holy grail. And AI is an enabler in that,” Padala said.

Gradient Ventures partner Muzzammil “MZ” Zaveri echoed this. “Fylamynt is at the intersection of applied AI and workflow automation,” he said. “We’re excited to support the Fylamynt team in this uniquely positioned product with a deep bench of integrations and a non-prescriptive builder approach. The vision of automating every part of a cloud workflow is just the beginning.”

The team, which now includes about 20 employees, plans to use the new round of funding, which closed in September, to focus on its R&D, build out its product and expand its go-to-market team. On the product side, that specifically means building more connectors.

The company offers both a free plan as well as enterprise pricing and its platform is now generally available.

#ansible, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #business, #ceo, #chef, #cisco, #cloud, #cloud-applications, #datadog, #developer, #enterprise, #gradient-ventures, #json, #pagerduty, #partner, #point72-ventures, #python, #servicenow, #splunk, #vmware, #zapier

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Spying a pivot to ghost kitchens, Softbank’s second Vision Fund pours $120 million into Ordermark

“We’re building a decentralized ghost kitchen,” is a sentence that could launch a thousand investor calls, and Alex Canter, the chief executive officer behind Ordermark, knows it.

The 29 year-old CEO has, indeed, built a decentralized ghost kitchen — and managed to convince Softbank’s latest Vision Fund to invest in a $120 million round for that the company announced today.

“We have uncovered an opportunity to help drive more orders into restaurants through this offering we have called Nextbite,” Canter said. “Nextbite is a portfolio of delivery-only restaurant brands that exist only on UberEats, DoorDash, and Postmates.”

After hearing about Nextbite, Softbank actually didn’t take much convincing.

Investors from the latest Vision Fund first reached out to Canter shortly after the company announced its last round of funding in 2019. Canter had just begun experimenting with Nextbite at the time, but now the business is driving a huge chunk of the company’s revenues and could account for a large percentage of the company’s total business in the coming year.

“We believe Ordermark’s leading technology platform and innovative virtual restaurant concepts are transforming the restaurant industry,” said Jeff Housenbold, Managing Partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “Alex and the Ordermark team have a deep understanding of the challenges that independent restaurants face. We are excited to support their mission to help independent restaurants optimize online ordering and generate incremental revenue from under-utilized kitchens.”

It’s an interesting pivot for a company that began as a centralized hub for restaurants to manage all of the online delivery orders coming in through various delivery services like GrubHub, Postmates and Uber Eats .

Canter is no stranger to the restaurant business. His family owns one of Los Angeles’ most famous delicatessens, the eponymous Canters, and Ordermark apocryphally started as a way to manage the restaurant’s own back-of-the-house chaos caused by a profusion of delivery service orders.

Now, instead of becoming the proprietor of one restaurant brand, Canter is running 15 of them. Unlike Cloud Kitchens, Kitchen United or Reef, Ordermark isn’t building or operating new kitchens. Instead, the company relies on the unused kitchen capacity of restaurants that the company has vetted to act as its quasi-franchisees.

Ordermark logos for some of the company’s delivery-only restaurant concepts. Image Credit: Ordermark

While most of the restaurant concepts have been developed internally, Ordermark isn’t above the occasional celebrity sponsorship. Its Nextbite service has partnered with Wiz Khalifa on a delivery-only restaurant called HotBox by Wiz, featuring “stoner-friendly munchies”.

The first brand Canter launched was The Grilled Cheese Society, which took advantage of unused kitchens at places like a Los Angeles nightclub and mom-and-pop restaurants across the East Coast to build out a footprint that now covers 100 locations nationwide.

It’s perhaps the growth of the HotBox brand that shows what kind of growth Nextbite could promote. Since the brand’s launch in early October, it has grown to a footprint that will reach 50 cities by the end of the month, according to Canter.

In some ways, Nextbite couldn’t exist without Ordermark’s delivery aggregation technology. “The way that Ordermark’s technology is designed, not only can we aggregate online orders into the device, but we can aggregate multiple brands into the device.”

For restaurants that sign up to be fulfillment partners for the Nextbite brands, there are few additional upfront costs and a fair bit of upside, according to Canter. Restaurants are making 30% margin on every order they take for one of Ordermark’s brands, Canter said.

To become a part of Nextbite’s network of restaurants the business has to be vetted by Ordermark. The company takes cues on what kinds of restaurants are performing well in different regions and develops a menu that is suited to match those trends. For instance, Nextbite recently launched a hot chicken sandwich brand after seeing the item rise in popularity on different digital delivery services.

Restaurants are chosen that can match the menu style of the delivery-only brand that Ordermark’s Nextbite business creates.

Behind those menus is Guy Simsiman, a Denver-based chef who is in charge of developing new menus for the company.

“We’re building things that we know can scale and we do a lot of upfront vetting to find the right types of fulfillment partners,” said Canter. “When a restaurant signs up to become a fulfillment partner, we’re vetting them and training them on what they need to do to … We’re guiding them to become fulfillment partners for these concepts. There’s a whole bunch of training that happens. Then there’s secret shopping and review monitoring to monitor quality.”

While Nextbite may be the future of Ordermark’s business, its overall health looks solid. The company is about to cross $1 billion worth of orders processed through its system.

“We are laser focused right now on helping our restaurants survive COVID and the best way we can do that is by doubling down on the incremental revenues of the Nextbite business,” said Canter when asked where the company’s emphasis would be going forward.

Nextbite is something we’ve been developing for a while now. We took it to market at the end of last year prior to COVID. When COVID kicked in every restaurant in America needed to be more creative. People were looking for alternative ways to supplement the loss in foot traffic,” he said. Nextbite provided an answer.

#america, #business, #ceo, #chef, #chief-executive-officer, #companies, #covid, #delivery-services, #denver, #doordash, #east-coast, #grubhub, #jeff-housenbold, #laser, #los-angeles, #managing-partner, #menu, #online-food-ordering, #ordermark, #postmates, #restaurant, #tc, #uber, #uber-eats, #vision-fund, #websites, #wiz

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Progress snags software automation platform Chef for $220M

Progress, a Boston area developer tool company, boosted its offerings in a big way today when it announced it was acquiring software automation platform Chef for $220 million.

Chef, which went 100% open source last year, had annual recurring revenue (ARR) of $70 million from the commercial side of the house. Needless to say, Progress CEO Yogesh Gupta was happy to bring the company into the fold and gain not only that revenue, but a set of highly skilled employees, a strong developer community and an impressive customer list.

Gupta said that Chef fits with his company’s acquisition philosophy. “This acquisition perfectly aligns with our growth strategy and meets the requirements that we’ve previously laid out: a strong recurring revenue model, technology that complements our business, a loyal customer base and the ability to leverage our operating model and infrastructure to run the business more efficiently,” he said in a statement.

Chef CEO Barry Crist offered a typical argument for an acquired company, that Progress offered  a better path to future growth, while sending a message to the open source community and customers that Progress would be a good steward of the startup’s vision.

“For Chef, this acquisition is our next chapter, and Progress will help enhance our growth potential, support our Open Source vision, and provide broader opportunities for our customers, partners, employees and community,” Crist said in a statement.

Chef’s customer list is certainly impressive including tech industry stalwarts like Facebook, IBM and SAP, as well as non-tech companies like Nordstrom, Alaska Airlines and Capital One.

The company was founded in 2008 and had raised $105 million. according to Crunchbase data. It hadn’t raised any funds since 2015 when it raised a $40 million Series E led by DFJ Growth. Other investors along the way included Battery Ventures, Ignition Partners and Scale Venture Partners.

The transaction is expected to close next month pending normal regulatory approvals.

#chef, #developer, #developer-tools, #enterprise, #exit, #fundings-exits, #ma, #mergers-and-acquisitions, #open-source, #progress, #software-automation, #startups, #tc

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Asmoke’s portable pellet grill is super affordable and great for small spaces

Smokers and pellet grills are growing in popularity, likely because a lot more people are cooking at home – and looking for other ways to up their home chef game. The Asmoke Pellet Grill, which is currently in the final stretch of a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, has a price point that’s far below most other options out there – but don’t let the price tag fool you, the grill packs more punch than its cost and portable size might suggest.

Basics

If you’re not familiar with pellet grills, they’re a combination of smoker and BBQ that burn condensed hardwood pellets feed by an auger to create smoke and heat. The most popular options out there include Traeger’s grills, as well as Camp Chef, Pit Boss, and others. The Smoke Pellet Grill is a new, portable pellet grill that features a lot of the same features you’d see in higher-priced brand name options, but at a much lower cost when you factor in their accessories – particularly now, during the tail end of their crowdfunding campaign.

Asmoke’s $176 USD backer price includes one grill, a meat injector, a thermometer, grill gloves, shredding tools for breaking down smoked meat, tongs and a 5lb bag of their applewood pellets to get you started cooking right away. That’s over half-off their estimated retail price once the campaign ends. Even at the full final price you’re still going to come out cheaper than the closest brand name competitor – the Traeger Ranger – once you factor in all the included accessories.

The Asmoke is electrically-powered, so you can use it outside anywhere you have access to an outlet. It includes a larger cooking surface that can fit up to 8 burgers at once, or one full rack of ribs. As mentioned, there’s a temperature probe included that plugs into the front and displays the internal temp of any meat you insert it into within the grill itself while cooking. A dial on the front provides the only control you need, enabling setting temp from 180 all the way up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Design

The Asmoke Pellet Grill is designed to be portable, at just over 2 feet by around 1.5 feet, and 14.45 inches tall. It weights around 45 lbs, which is heavy, but that’s still portable compared to most pellet smokers, which tend to be very large and essentially designed to sit in a fixed location. The Asmoke is also made from steel and stainless steel primarily, so that weight represents durability, which is good for an appliance designed to be used exclusively outside.

Construction of the grill feels very sturdy and high-quality, with good fittings and finishes across the board. The heat resistant paint comes in four different colors, including the red and blue shown below, as well as an aquamarine green and black. Latches secure the lid while cooking, and there’s an insulating gasket that runs the length and width of the edge to keep the heat in while giving you a secure closure. A large handle opens and closes the lid, and four feet elevate the grill off whatever surface you’re resting it on.

Inside, there’s a hopper where you put the pellets on the left which is separated from the cooking area on the right. The cooking area includes a large grill surface, and an optional raised rack for a small second level cooking area. A stainless steel grease slide installs over the cup where pellets are driven by the auger to burn and smoke, and a second slide goes over that – giving you the ability to keep it closed for smoking and grilling, or opening it up to allow flame through for char-broiling.

On the front, you can see the control unit, which includes a large, readable display that uses a few different colors to clearly present information including the set temperature of the drill, auger speed, and sensor temperature when cooking with the probe. The large, single dial is your only control mechanism, providing temperature setting and letting you turn the grill on and off.

Some assembly is required to get the Asmoke ready to cook, but it’s actually super easy to do. Basically you just install the legs and front handle, and then remove all the internal components from their packaging and put them back in the grill. It took me about 20 minutes start to finish. The grill needs to be primed upon first use (and any time you run out of pellets), but that’s only a few more minutes. And the first time you ever use it, there’s a burn-off procedure that involves running the grill at higher temps for around 30 to 40 minutes, but it’s very easy to do.

Performance

The Asmoke punches above its weight class. In testing, I did an extended, 7-hour smoke of a pork shoulder blade roast using the provided Applewood pellets, and the results were fantastic. I’ve smoked a lot of meat using a Traeger Pro 575, and this was easily on par with the best results I’ve had out of that cooker in terms of the quality and flavor of the finished product.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

Best of all, the Asmoke is small enough to work on my condo deck, which is not somewhere I’ve typically been able to consider using a smoker cooker. The grill does put off a lot of smoke through its exhaust, particularly when it’s first heating up to reach temperature, but it also dissipates rather quickly, especially if you’re on a higher floor. Just be aware that especially in close proximity, the smoke produced from cookers like these will be powerful and strong-smelling – which is a benefit for me, but which might not be what you’re after if you’re living in a dense city environment.

Actually using the Asmoke is very simple. You can find smoker cooker recipes available readily on the internet, and then it’s a matter of just following those instructions. The Asmoke gets up to target temperature quickly, and is good at maintaining a constant temp throughout a cook once it reaches those levels. If you need to refill the hopper mid-cook, it’s simple enough to open the box and do so, and you won’t lose all that much temperature so long as you do it quickly. And since the hopper compartment is insulated separately from the cooking area, you can do it without fear of burning yourself, too.

Because the Asmoke offers such a wide temperature range, it’s also good or grilling, and even baking. I also made burgers on it at a much higher temp, and those results were fantastic, too – far exceeding standard BBQs in terms of retaining juices and adding subtle smoke flavor.

One thing to consider is that post-cook, especially after long ones like the pork roast I did, there’s a fair amount of cleaning up involved. It’s not difficult, but it is time consuming, and includes scraping the grease tray, cleaning the cooking grate, and vacuuming out the leftover ash from the pellet pot and the bottom of the cooking box. This isn’t specific to Asmoke: It’s part and parcel of operation any pellet cooker, and I found that Asmoke’s high quality materials ensured it was relatively easy to clean.

Bottom line

If you’re looking to bump up your outdoor cooking game, the Asmoke Portable Pellet Grill is a remarkably affordable way to do so, especially during this crowdfunding effort. Normally, I’d advise caution in any crowdfunding scenario, but in this case, grills are already in the process of shipping to customers, and they work exactly as advertised, providing high-quality results.

This is a category where top-brand incumbents rightly earn a lot of respect and customer loyalty for their long history of delivery reliable products, so it’s hard for a newcomer to break in. But Asmoke’s product and results far exceed their newcomer status.

#barbecue, #chef, #cooking, #food-and-drink, #gadgets, #grilling, #hardware, #hobbies, #indiegogo, #reviews, #stainless-steel, #steel, #tc

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Bay Area effort to feed hospital workers partners with Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen

An effort I’ve been following in the Bay Area to deliver meals to front-line hospital clinicians dealing with the results of COVID-19 is announcing a big new partnership today that should give it a national stage. Frontline Foods is partnering up with World Central Kitchen to scale up its ad-hoc efforts across the US.

World Central Kitchen is a not-for-profit organization founded by chef José Andrés in 2010 that has made headlines over and over again as it has provided food and disaster relief in countries around the world after disasters like Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, the Camp Fires in California and most recently COVID-19-affected cruise passengers in Japan and Oakland.

Frontline Foods is an open-sourced effort to deliver meals to hospital staff from local restaurants impacted by loss of clientele due to coronavirus prevention measures. The equation is a brilliantly simple one. Restaurants have far less customers, hospital staff are moving at incredible speed and unable to score a great meal on the fly.

The #SFhospitalmeals experiment evolved into a full clinician meal program, as launched here by Frank Barbieri and Sydney Gessel, along with Ryan Sarver, who I spoke to via email about the program — one of several similar efforts that collectively became Frontline Foods.

“Frank was texting with a mutual friend of ours, Sydney Gessel, who is a registered nurse in the Emergency Department at UCSF Mission Bay. He asked her, ‘How can I help’ and she essentially replied ‘pizza.’ Nurses are pulling 16-hour shifts, are stressed, tired, no time to cook at home, restaurants are closed and the simple act of feeding themselves was going by the wayside,” Sarver said. “At the same time, restaurants were starting to face the reality of shelter-in-place and the dire results of what it meant for them and their teams. We called up a local pizza spot that night and had a bunch of pizzas delivered to her unit. The restaurant and the clinicians were both ecstatic and we realized there was an opportunity to try to do more of this.”

After a couple of dry runs and a tweet for donors, the project ended up expanding to 7 hospitals and raising an eventual $350k over the past few weeks.

Ryan and Frank and other volunteers like Chris Consentino outlined a spec for the project and reached out to a number of restaurants and started plugging them into spreadsheets that matched restaurants to units in need across a few Bay Area hospitals.

Frontline Foods, as a federation that now has multiple chapters across the US, has 150 volunteers in 12 cities and has raised a combined $700,000. In SF it has delivered 4,375 meals to 6 local hospitals. It currently has the ability to deliver another 12,000 meals in SF. Current hospitals served in the bay include UCSF Mission Bay, UCSF Parnassus, SFGH, Kaiser Geary, CPMC Van Ness and CPMC Davies.

Once they saw that there were more groups in the bay and across the US that had started similar ‘connect restaurants to COVID-19 clinicians’ efforts, they began to see the need to build out a standard.

“We decided ‘open sourcing’ the process and tools we were using would help other people start their own programs and allow us to learn from others groups,” Sarver said. “We eventually launched a Slack to help the other cities coordinate. In less than a week we now have 180 volunteers in the Slack, over a dozen cities launched, have raised $700k, and delivered 7,000+ meals.”

Frontline is looking to leverage WCK’s experience in raising money and preparing food for disasters over the last 10 years. WCK’s help as a fiscal sponsor will also give Frontline Foods the ability to utilize its 501c3 status to accept donations. The side of this that is bolstering local restaurants and creating a pipeline between them and groups of people in need of food — fueled by donations — is what Frontline is hoping to bring to the table.

The group boasts a diverse set of skills from technology and design to community management, food & beverage and non-profits. They’re distributed across the US, Canada and Australia as well. It’s nearly all being run on Slack and Zoom calls as well, and most of the group has never met one another.

“We open sourced the process and tools, which at the time was some Google Docs and Google Sheets,” said Sarver. “In the week since, we have spun up a product and engineering team of volunteers who are designing and building more automated systems. Some of it is custom built and but much of it is going to be built on Coda for the backend tools, documentation and automation.”

Many of the cities that are now a part of the Frontline Foods project were home to efforts that started in parallel. After reaching out and realizing that they were aligned, there was a drive to create a new umbrella that used a shared mission and shared systems to make them more effective.

Frontline is reaching out to local, independent restaurants in the areas where it operates or having them apply via a form, and word has spread through the restaurant community. Many of them, even without previous take-out or delivery experience, are figuring out how to package and deliver meals through Frontline’s pipeline. In return, they get a pipeline of predictable business at a time when they are not seeing much predictability at all.

The restaurant industry has been hit incredibly hard by COVID-19, and there is a real danger that an entire generation of independent food providers will just be wiped out. Many are adapting at speed to a life of takeout, or marketplaces, or safe delivery — but any additional help is welcome. And the double-ended benefit that results from the Frontline Foods (and WCK) project is a fantastic way to deliver that help.

“World Central Kitchen is a team of food first responders, mobilizing with the urgency of now to get meals to those who need them most. We are proud that this alliance with Frontline Foods will help activate even more restaurants and kitchens to feed our brave medical professionals on the front lines, in order to make a meaningful impact in the fight to keep everyone fed, and to support the distressed restaurant industry,” World Central Kitchen CEO Nate Mook said in a release today.

Frontline Foods and WCK are taking no fees from these transactions. Along with the WCK partnership, Frontline is also launching a national donation-matching program with a $200,000 matching grant from top donors.

“This is an unprecedented crisis (I’ve used that a lot, but it is) — the hospitals and clinicians have never seen anything like this,” said Sarver via email. “And for the 11 million people employed by restaurants in the US, they face a very uncertain future. Every dollar of a donation goes directly into the pockets of these restaurants to make the food that goes to our clinicians. If you can, please consider a donation.”

You can donate on Frontline Foods website here.

#australia, #california, #canada, #chef, #chefs, #federal-government, #food, #food-and-drink, #frank-barbieri, #google, #japan, #oakland, #puerto-rico, #restaurants, #ryan-sarver, #take-out, #tc, #united-states

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