Food is powerful. It not only has the ability to give us energy and keep us healthy, but to bring us together. New York City may not always be the most friendly place to live and visit, and sometimes there are walls that need to be broken down.
EatWith, a startup platform allowing locals to invite visitors to dine in their home, uses food to break down these walls, and helps to form community.
It all started in 2010, when Guy Michlin, EatWith co-founder and CEO, was on vacation in Crete with his family.
“After 4 days of falling into every possible tourist trap, I received an invitation to dine with a lovely local family,” he explains. “That experience turned out to be the highlight of my trip: the authentic local food, the chance to speak with locals and peek into a different culture — turned it all into an unforgettable evening.”
The mix of delicious homemade food and connection with local people planted an idea in his mind, and together with his friend Shemer Schwarz, created an alternative to restaurants that helps people discover the world through the palate.
While the EatWith team loves having new people apply to host, they’re very selective with who they choose, wanting to ensure a tasty, hospitable and memorable experience for guests. Moreover, it’s important the experiences offered are unique, especially in a city like New York where the culinary scene is already so diverse and exciting.
“Even though the culture is so advanced, EatWith still has the ability to open up even more opportunities, personalized experiences and access to the chefs,” says Tara Seruya, EatWith’s user support/experience rep. “We have created a real alternative to restaurants for locals and travelers alike. People here in NYC are hustlers — eager, open minded and creative — this is the kind of atmosphere for startups to thrive in.”
I found this to be true when trying EatWith for myself — specifically, a progressive Indian tasting menu with Shuchi, a former banker turned private chef. She focuses on typical Indian dishes served in a modern way, using fresh, atypical ingredients not common in Indian cuisine that still keep traditional flavors.
While an appetizer fused North Indian flatbread (Bhatura) with a South Indian-style curry leaf and mustard mushrooms topping, her take on a traditional “Bhel Puri” — typically featuring puffed rice, chickpeas, potatoes and chutneys — swapped rice for quinoa and tamarind chutney for one made from fresh orange juice. There was also a tasty “Polenta Upma,” a dish traditionally made with semolina and vegetable korma risotto, essentially giving the Indian vegetarian dish an Italian twist. Paired with our BYO wine and stellar aerial views of Manhattan, New Jersey and the Hudson River, it was truly a delicious experience.
But it isn’t just about food as nourishment, it’s about food as a bonding vehicle. Our table ended up being 10 fantastic females, all with our own individual stories: a travel-addicted lawyer, a banker-turned-entrepreneur, two women from a family-owned cosmetics business, a Chinese woman who moved from Hunan to Queens to pursue museum consulting. We tell our tales over fish cake sliders and paneer, clinking glasses, exchanging cards and sharing RSVP plans for other local events. I didn’t just leave with a full stomach, but with a new NYC network to call on.
So, what can we expect for the future with EatWith? According to Seruya, the company is in a learning period, and have recently identified a demand for planning private and customized events. Moreover, the team has realized that while hosts may have the talent to entertain, they may not have the ideal space, especially true in NYC where many live in small apartments with roommates. To help solve this, they’re experimenting with a community test kitchen for experience hosting, pop-up events and new concepts.
Stay tuned, as this delicious sharing economy startup is sure to grow.
*This story originally appeared on Drive the District. Photos provided by EatWith.