Josephine, an Oakland, California-based startup that paired home cooks with hungry neighbors, has decided to shut down after almost four years in business. The last meals provided by its cooks will be delivered March 30.
Co-CEO Charley Wang wrote on Josephine’s blog, “We knew that Josephine was an ambitious idea from day one and, as you all know, there have been many highs and lows over the years. At this point, our team has simply run out of the resources to continue to drive the legislative change, business innovation, and broader cultural shift needed to sustain Josephine.”
Josephine was founded in 2014 by Wang and Tal Safran as an online platform for home cooks (and sometimes, community groups and non-profit organizations) to sell meals to their neighbors. An alternative to restaurant take-out, Josephine allowed amateur cooking enthusiasts to share their culinary talents with their community and for neighbors to meet each other through their mutual love of food.
Josephine, which raised $3.1 million in angel and seed funding, injected a dose of good-neighbor nostalgia into the crowded food-delivery startup scene when it launched in 2015. While other companies focused on delivery logistics, Josephine recruited 75 home cooks and encouraged them to make lasagna and more for nearby families.
Troubles for Josephine started in May 2016, when the company was served a cease-and-desist order by health regulators for illegal food sales. It was forced to stop operations in Alameda County. The Bay Area accounts for one-third of Josephine’s business, with about 50 to 100 cooks active on the platform per month. (Seattle and Portland are its other major hubs.) The company was able to find a workaround by making Josephine a private marketplace. Cooks were able to continue using Josephine to make private sales of their meals. But that meant Josephine could no longer advertise as a public marketplace, instead, depending on the cooks’ own efforts and word-of-mouth to grow.
The startup lobbied for new legislation. As those efforts faltered, Josephine began to evaluate new markets like Denver and Seattle. However, the company didn’t have enough funding to fight regulators market by market.