Living the tasty life on Food Street
Have you ever caught a tantalising whiff of a neighbour’s delicious cooking and thought, “Geez, I wish they’d make some for me”? One enterprising Sydney couple has made that wistful wish a reality, creating a successful online platform that sells nutritious, homemade meals created by passionate and talented home cooks who love to share their food with time-poor, real food-loving Australian families.
Co-founded by ex-chef turned corporate accounts manager Lorraine Gnanadickam and her husband Sanjay, Food St is a marketplace that enables cooks to their sell healthy, home-cooked meals to other homes across Sydney. Food St supplies delivery and marketing support to the cooks, who all undergo a stringent vetting and food safety training process.
The platform provides flexible paid employment to cooks who choose not to take the route of traditional workplaces – some are on maternity leave, others are retired chefs, people whose employment has been affected by COVID-19 or immigrants with limited English who want to use their cooking skills to share their culture’s cuisine with other Australians.
Love thy neighbour’s food
Gnanadickam was inspired to create Food St after becoming frustrated by the fact that her busy corporate career was making it too difficult for her to regularly prepare nutritious, tasty home-cooked meals for her own family.
“Being a full-time working mum with two young children, I felt like I was failing, because I wasn’t able to cook and produce beautiful meals for my family,” she says. “We were ordering a lot of takeaway and eating substandard supermarket meals.
“Then one day, I was having a conversation with my husband about these people who lived on our street. I said, ‘Gosh, the woman who cooks Mexican across the road, wouldn’t it be great if we could just buy her food?’”
Gnanadickam realised that there were countless other people just like her, struggling to find time to cook for their families. She and her husband came up with the idea of connecting people in the local community so they could gain regular access to quality, home-cooked food. They began looking into how they could bring the concept to life, working with the NSW Food Authority to address food safety issues from the outset. In 2017, they launched Food St as a hot food service. By 2019, they expanded to a frozen line of products.
Authentic flavours the recipe for success
To date, Food St has sold more than 15,000 meals and has grown by 70 percent since this time last year. The business also recently received a $500,000 injection from payment giant Afterpay’s co-founder David Hancock to expand its network further.
“For me, food has always been about sharing and enjoying it together,” Gnanadickam says. “I think what’s happening – and what worries me – is we’re so focused on convenience, because we’re time poor, that we’re losing some of that essence of what food really is.”
Food St hasn’t just brought back the reality of healthy, home-cooked meals for many lucky Sydney families; it’s also had a hugely positive impact on the lives of its cooks – people who love to cook and who are looking for flexible work options.
“We have people from all walks of life selling meals on the platform,” Gnanadickam says. “Our cooks are from all over the world, bringing the flavours of their home countries to the plate, meaning we have a unique marriage of diversity and authenticity in our menu. Watching our cooks succeed is one of the most satisfying components of this business.”
Meet the cooks
Iris, who is from a Cambodian Chinese background, has been in Australia for almost two years now. Before she began cooking for Food St, she had never cooked for an income before. However, growing up in Cambodia, she had to start cooking for her family at the age of just nine. Everything she makes is done by hand – dumplings, pastries and cakes – and she has developed quite the cult following on Food St.
“When you taste her food, you can taste that it’s homemade,” Gnanadickam says. “You can taste the love in that food. And I think that’s the difference with our products compared to anything that’s commercially made.”
Burcu comes from a Turkish background, and she had to find different ways to cook for her daughter, who had been diagnosed with egg and dairy allergies. She discovered that she had a real talent for making amazing plant-based desserts, and had already started selling her produce at markets before joining Food St. Her cheesecakes, cupcakes and börek (meat-filled flaky pastries) are all hugely popular.
Christopher, from the Philippines, trained at Le Cordon Bleu Sydney and was taught to cook by his mother. Gnanadickam says he makes his Filipino food with a modern twist for Food St because, “He wants to share the warmth and love of his culture through his food”.
“This is all about allowing people within our community – and we live in such a beautiful, multicultural community – to share the dishes that are close to their hearts, and that they cook with love,” Gnanadickam says.
Safe, supportive and very satisfying
All Food St cooks must hold valid food safety supervisor certificates: “This means that, if you were in a commercial kitchen, they would be the person supervising food safety, so they’re all trained to the highest level,” Gnanadickam explains. “We also have really strict reporting processes where everything is batch tracked – probably stricter than a lot of other companies – because we know that we’re looking at multiple kitchens.”
Food St now has 28 cooks offering more than 100 different meals, and is about to open up recruitment again to grow this number. All food ordered is cooked in small batches weekly, as the aim of the business is to avoid over-commercialising and losing that “homemade” flavour. The cooks prepare the food in their home, then immediately freeze it before it’s picked up by Food St and taken to their warehouse. A third-party accredited courier company then delivers the meals straight to customers’ doors.
“We offer employment to those who are talented and passionate about food yet may struggle with traditional workplaces,” Gnanadickam says. “This is a model that can be taken into every community – even in regional communities. Our vision, our goal, is to get this into as many communities as we can to empower more people, whether it’s earning an income by sharing food and doing what you love, or if you’re someone who’s struggling to source food that’s nutritious and tasty. It’s all about supporting each other.”