Noobtsaa Philip Vang didn’t envision starting his own company when he came to D.C. two years ago to start his MBA at Georgetown. He had his sights set on a degree, and a career in social enterprise. But it wasn’t long before Vang found a market need — it all started with his own craving for traditional, home-cooked food.
Many miss their mother’s (or father’s) cooking while away at school — but for Vang it was especially difficult to find anything to fill this craving. Vang’s parents, who live in Minnesota, are Hmong — they came to the United States as refugees from Laos.
And, well, neither Georgetown nor the greater city of D.C. had much to offer by way of traditional Hmong or Laotian food.
Vang started talking with his classmates, and began to consider how he could combine his desires for accessible, home-cooked food with his goal of working in or for a double bottom line company. Could he, somehow, build a company to empower immigrants like his own parents?
Foodhini was born out of this question.
Foodhini is a meal delivery service, not dissimilar to D.C.’s Galley. Foodhini’s food, however, is its differentiating factor — it is all prepared by independent, immigrant home chefs in a commercial kitchen space provided by the company. Foodhini takes on all the cost of the ingredients, space and delivery, and the home chefs simply provide their time and expertise. The chefs make 15-18 percent off each meal sold, Vang told Technical.ly. Foodhini’s current model has customers ordering meals the week ahead, meaning the company can track demand and pay chefs upfront.
Vang’s concept is that this model could allow immigrant home chefs to “leverage their existing culinary skills to create sustainable income opportunities.”
This is personal for Vang — his own parents struggled to find solid jobs upon arrival in the U.S. Jobs with a company like Foodhini, he hopes, could make a real difference in the lives of new Americans still figuring out which of their skills are transferable.
Foodhini has space in Union Kitchen in Ivy City, Vang told Technical.ly, and, after some recent pilot tests, he hopes to soft launch in August or September. For the time being Vang is working with a Laotian home chef, but he’s “very open” to expanding to all different kinds of cuisine in the future. D.C.’s customers are adventurous in general, he said, and Foodhini is “a great opportunity for people to feel comfortable trying new foods in their own homes.”
Of course, there are challenges to a company like Foodhini. The supply chain for the ingredients used in traditional dishes can be challenging to navigate, for one. Enticing customers to try something completely new can be tough too. And Vang’s still trying to figure out how to best use technology to connect customers with the very real stories of Foodhini’s chefs.
But it’s very early days for Foodhini and Vang — he only graduated from Georgetown this spring. In June he was announced as a Halcyon Incubator fellow in cohort five, so he has an 18-month program of incubation and mentorship ahead. There’s a soft launch on the horizon and perhaps some seed funding and a further expanded team (Vang is the only person working full time on Foodhini at the moment).
In other words, there’s a lot to be done. But there’s also a clear goal ahead — ultimately Vang hopes Foodhini can enrich both the lives of immigrant home chefs and those of D.C.’s eaters, through trying, tasting and connecting with something new.