My dining room is your dining room

New Israeli start-up allows food-lovers to find and offer home-cooked meals, as an alternative to eating at a restaurant.

My dining room is your dining room (photo credit: Gidon Levin)
My dining room is your dining room
(photo credit: Gidon Levin)
The scene at a recent meeting of one of the latest Israeli start-ups couldn't be more typical. Four young creative people gathering on the rooftop of a north Tel Aviv apartment, all of whom left their successful high-powered jobs to put all of their energy into their new baby. While the story behind the start-up may be familiar, the product itself is somewhat unique. is a web-based community for people to host meals in their homes for people that they have never met before. While the official business model is still in the works, the concept resembles a food version of popular hosting websites such as CouchSurfing or Airbnb.
Sagiv Ofek, the CEO and brains behind the operation, believes that there is huge demand for the product, which connects those who like to cook with those who like to eat. "My grandmother likes to cook but she always eats alone," Ofek says. "The family has all moved out. She just wants to invite people to her home to eat with her." It is this philosophy that inspired the conscientious young entrepreneur to develop the system that allows amateur cooks to open up their homes for anyone that is interested in being hosted.
(Gidon Levin)(Gidon Levin)
Ofek is not alone in his vision. He has been joined by three other young Israelis who are just as driven to succeed. Almost as if he read a textbook on how to form the perfect Israeli start-up, Ofek was joined by a friend from the army, Elad Cohen, a friend from high school, Koby Meshi, and a media consultant he met at a software development event, Orit Segev.
The story began back in November when Ofek came up with the idea at the Angel Hack Hackathon in Tel Aviv, a place where software developers come together to work on new projects. Over the course of the hackathon, he not only finalized the venture but won a place in the finals, which will take place in Silicon Valley in California in January. It was also at the hackathon that Ofek met Segev; within a month Cohen and Meshi were on board and the website was launched.
Ofek traces the idea that inspired the website back to his family. "I ate Shabbat dinner with my family and my father told my mother that she is such a good cook, she should open up her own restaurant," Ofek recalls. After his mother insisted that she doesn't have the money to invest in something like that and she doesn't want to deal with it, Ofek came up with the idea for when she explained that all she wanted to do was cook for other people. "Everyone who wants to cook can open up their own home restaurant - they can either do it for fun or charge money for it," Ofek explains. "The website is a great opportunity for anyone who likes food to have a chance to cook for other people."
(Gidon Levin)(Gidon Levin)
The scope for the website, however, reaches much further than grandmothers and mothers who want to feed hungry mouths for fun. The website can be used by anyone in any situation, explains Ofek. "It can be used by students who want to eat with other people or a single mother who wants to earn some extra income."
Cohen explains this concept in more detail by describing a scenario in which the website can come in useful. "Imagine yourself going abroad and you want to eat kosher," he says. "There is no kosher restaurant around you but there is a Jewish person who is preparing food and is willing to invite you as a stranger and a tourist to their home. It helps the people." Cohen stresses that even if someone isn't specifically looking for kosher food, they may be looking for local ethnic food wherever they are in the world.
While the young team hopes to set up a global community for a wide range of users around the world, the Jewish and Israeli influence is very present in the concept. Ofek provides the example of a Jewish person from America who is in Israel and looking to eat a Shabbat dinner with a local family. He explains that anyone who is hosting a Shabbat dinner can invite a few extra guests and feel good about hosting. "The idea is that if you are already cooking for yourself why not just invite other people to help share the cost of the meal and meet new people."
As well as Israel, successful dinners have already been hosted in places such as New York and London. While the core of the community is in Israel, the team plan to expand to the US and beyond. "First the US - then we are planning to take over the world," Cohen confidently exclaims. When meeting with the four young entrepreneurs, it's hard not get caught up in the brave enthusiasm that drove them all to quit their jobs and launch into this new venture.
Meshi, who is currently a law student, is confident that the format will be embraced because of its simplicity. Anyone that wants to host an event can do so. People log onto the site through their Facebook account and that helps verify the identity of the users to a certain extent, Meshi explains. The aim is to create a community whereby friends of members will automatically know what meals are being hosted. In an attempt to maintain certain standards and a level of accountability, users are able to review the host after the event and see if they are reliable or not.
"We are very open minded when it comes to guidelines," Meshi states. "In the terms and conditions it talks about being respectful and the importance of following normal codes of conduct for hosting." When setting up an event through the website, hosts can either decide to put on a meal for free or they have the ability to charge a small amount per guest. They can also decide on a minimum or maximum number of guests and can decide who to approve. To add to the interactive nature of the community, once a meal has been set up, the host can upload pictures as they are cooking and update information as and when it changes.
Even though meals are organized over the Internet, Meshi says that the platform gives people a chance to actually socialize in person at a dinner rather than just chatting over the Internet. "Everybody talks about social media and communities, but what is more social than meeting together over a home-cooked meal," adds Ofek.
Ofek is also quick to point out that when it comes to events where people are entering other people's homes, the liability of the website is very important. "You cannot just approve any stranger," he explains. "We are trying to do as much as possible to make the system more reliable."
The first official meal to launch the site with all four founders in attendance took place recently in Tel Aviv. Guests were treated to a vegan meal provided by Chef Rani Rotem, hosted at Ari Leon Fruchter's Tel Aviv apartment. The event brought together a group of people, many of whom have never met each other before, who came together to enjoy a dinner party in a home that they have never been to before. For many in attendance it was also the first time eating a fully vegan meal. Judging by the empty plates, it was quite the success.