Published On: Sun, Jun 28th, 2020

Why Out-of-Work New Yorkers Are Starting Cooking Businesses

For some, selling food is entirely about making money during a stressful time. Natalia, a substitute Spanish teacher who asked that her last name be withheld for legal reasons, lost her income when the schools closed in March. Her husband, a general contractor, saw his work slow down. So Natalia, who moved to New York from Argentina 12 years ago, decided to start making and selling empanadas.

After sending an email to her neighborhood group (Windsor Terrace and Kensington in Brooklyn), Natalia got immediate interest, she said. “I put my first ad up around 6 a.m., and by 7 a.m. I had 20 orders already.” She soon found herself staying up all night twice a week to make the empanadas (chicken, beef or vegetable) and she estimated that she’s making between $400 and $500 per week.

While the lockdown has caused widespread job loss, it has given many of these enterprising home bakers and cooks the push they’ve needed to start new businesses, even if they recognize that their success is circumstantial. To that end, a new app, WoodSpoon, which connects home cooks with local buyers, has seen its business soar.

In March, WoodSpoon was still in beta mode when the pandemic hit. “Everything changed, basically overnight,” said Oren Saar, a co-founder of the company. Overnight, he said, WoodSpoon received hundreds of inquiries from newly unemployed cooks and professional chefs.

Now there is currently a wait list of more than 200 home chefs who want to join. Chefs on the platform include Lenka Gengelova, a food blogger from Slovakia who offers dishes like smoked fried cheese and pierogi, and Kevin Martinez, who cooked at Nobu and Jean Georges.

“After Covid, everything changed,” Mr. Saar said. “So restaurants will change and this industry will change, and the way people consume food will change, and I think that we are part of the solution.” At the moment, WoodSpoon is available only in New York. He plans to expand to California next, followed by other locations.

Still, for some sellers, it’s less about making a living and more about helping others. Rachel Davies, 22, is donating all proceeds from her new venture, R.D. in the Kitchen, to food banks and social justice organizations. Operating out of her Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn apartment since May, Ms. Davies bakes up to 60 cookies a day. She also offers a service for customers who would like to donate cookies to front line and essential workers.

Similarly, Ms. Weiskind, the pizza maker, is giving away pies to essential workers, others who have lost their jobs, and anyone who says they’re having a tough time. “Knowing that you’re going to enjoy this pizza and that it’s going to make your life easier,” Ms. Weiskind said, “that is the greatest thing that you can pay me.”

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