Quotulatiousness

February 11, 2018

Bay area food entrepreneurs shut down by local health authorities

Filed under: Business, Government, Health, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In Reason, Baylen Linnekin recounts the rise and fall of Josephine, an online operation intended to connect home cooks with willing buyers:

A dozen or so years ago, as my friend Dave was planning a move from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia, he used the need to clean out his fridge before the move as an excuse to offer a half-empty jar of homemade kimchi for sale on Craigslist. While I don’t think the kimchi sold, Dave’s effort opened my eyes to the seemingly limitless possibilities of homemade online food sales.

The truth is that while those possibilities are limited theoretically only by imagination, they very often bump up in the real world against — to paraphrase Waylon Jennings — the limits of what the law will allow.

That truth was evident last week, when Bay Area food startup Josephine announced it will close its doors in March.

As I described in a Sacramento Bee op-ed in support of Josephine last year, the company launched nearly four years ago with a mission to provide cooks who are typically underrepresented in restaurant leadership — including women and immigrants — with a platform by which to sell home-cooked meals with their neighbors.

It’s a cool idea. And it worked quite well for a time. That is, as I noted, until local health officials “sent cease-and-desist letters to several Josephine cooks.”

Josephine responded by trying to work with lawmakers and regulators, pushing a bill in the state legislature that would provide some legal avenue for its cooks. Despite the fact that the bill is now moving through the California legislature, the company decided its passage would be too late for Josephine and its funders.

Josephine didn’t have to die. The regulations that have made it impossible for the company to operate should have died instead. But its fate mimics that of other similar home-food startups. A similar New York-based startup, Umi Kitchen, flamed out last year after just four months of operations. I wrote an appreciation of Forage Underground Market, the inventive San Francisco food swap that was shuttered by California state and local health authorities, way back in 2012. And I predicted at the time the food underground movement was just beginning to blossom.

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