From kubbe in Jerusalem to a Puerto Rican feast in NYC

Israeli social culinary start-up expands to Europe and the US, with an eye on a global reach.

Guests and hosts in Barcelona raise a toast 370 (photo credit: Courtesy EatWith)
Guests and hosts in Barcelona raise a toast 370
(photo credit: Courtesy EatWith)
Those who travel around the globe usually want to experience a taste of the local cuisine. But more often than not, they end up eating in tourist traps rather than authentic establishments.
Enter EatWith, a year-old Israeli start-up that aims to match adventurous travelers with welcoming locals, happy to share their dinner table with whomever stops by.
The Tel Aviv-based company first launched in 2012 in Israel, expanding to Barcelona, Spain, in February. Over the past month it has opened for business in Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, the UK and, just last week, New York City.
“We thought New York City was a good place to start in terms of the US,” said Guy Michlin, co-founder and CEO of EatWith. “We have applications from San Francisco, Houston, Los Angeles, Seattle, and over the next few months we’ll start expanding to those places as well.”
Michlin first dreamed up the idea of EatWith while on vacation on the island of Crete in 2010, when he ended up dining with a local family through connections made by a friend of a friend. Four hours later, they’d experienced a sumptuous, authentic dinner, intriguing conversation and plenty of local tips on exploring the area. He returned to Israel and launched the start-up along with his friend, Shemer Schwartz.
As of Monday, the hundreds of offerings on the site include tapas and cocktails in Barcelona; homemade Neapolitan pizza in Naples, Italy; a Moroccan feast in Berlin and a halla-baking workshop in Jerusalem.
Michlin told The Jerusalem Post that the site currently has about 230 registered hosts.
Each host sets their own meal price per person, and EatWith gets 15 percent of the profits. So far, the company has raised more than $1.2 million in venture capital, according to Businessweek.
Of course, the company recognizes the inherent risk associated with entering a stranger’s home and eating their food, and therefore EatWith employs a team to interview potential hosts in person and label them “EatWith certified.”
Users post detailed reviews on hosts’ advertisements, pinpointing any potential problems. If all else fails, EatWith has $1m. third-party insurance coverage.
“It’s around 90% of the hosts that are being vetted, with someone personally going to their home and tasting the food,” said Michlin.
In several cities, the company has EatWith representatives visiting potential hosts, but everywhere else “we have people from the community who are doing the checking.”
Since the company expanded out of Israel, it has been inundated with applications from around the world, and “we now have 89 countries where people want to start local EatWith communities,” said Michlin.
“Over the last month we made live eight of them, and over the next months we’re going to open up new cities all around the world, four to five cities a month,” with Japan, Peru and Russia up next.
While the site was designed for tourists to meet locals, Michlin discovered an unintended but welcome development: locals using the site to meet other locals.
At the launch weekend in New York City “we had six events and all the people were locals,” said Michlin.
“Each city has its own unique characteristics and answers a different need,” he continued. “I guess in New York it’s very much a social thing so far. So far in Barcelona it has skewed more to tourists, and Israel is about 50/50.”
An EatWith representative said more than 60% of guests stay in contact with their hosts or with fellow guests after their EatWith experience.
Michlin himself has partaken in many of the sites offerings.
“Every time I’m in Barcelona I try to go meet at least four or five hosts,” he said. “In Israel, I try to go at least every two weeks – probably in the last year I ate at 30 different hosts.
“It’s really a problem with keeping the weight off,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a lot of food. A lot of good food.”