Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - March 30, 2012

What's for dinner?

Gobble offers same-day ordering for healthy, home-cooked meals

by Carol Blitzer

Ooshma Garg has fond memories of coming home from school to find her dad, an endocrinologist and head of nutrition at a medical school in Dallas, singing and cooking in the kitchen.

Healthy, home-cooked meals were the norm in her household — and something she missed when she went off to college. At Stanford University, while earning a degree in biomechanical engineering, she found herself more often snacking on chicken nuggets at 2 a.m. Longing for those home-cooked, more healthful meals — with fresh ingredients — she posted an ad on Craigslist, looking for people willing to cook an occasional meal.

"I got a flood of responses," Garg said. She held chef tastings for a month, inviting her friends to sample.

Soon she created a master calendar, matching chefs with friends. And the rest, she says, is history.

In mid-2011, Garg founded Gobble, a web-based food home-delivery company. People can go to gobble.com, check out "What's for dinner?" and choose from five or six entrees (ranging from $10.95 to $14.95) plus a $2.95 delivery fee. There's always a child's meal, such as Chef Tricia's Whole Wheat Sliders & Cake Pops or Chef Mara's Chicken Milanese Tenders, at $8.95 each, or Chef Tricia's Whole Wheat Mac & Cheese at $9.95.

Garg is no stranger to start-ups. A 2009 Stanford grad, she sold her employer-student match service Anapata to LawWorks in 2010 and earned an Inc. 30 Under 30 award by 2011.

In February, Gobble expanded its online meal-ordering to same-day service, Gobble Instant. "You can order up to 7:30 p.m. and we'll have dinner on your doorstep within half an hour," she said.

Meals can be delivered from Mountain View north to Atherton.

As founder and CEO, or what she fondly calls "chief eating officer," Garg spends much of her time with customers or future customers, checking out what's working.

"It's a very well-known mantra in Silicon Valley to make something people want. One thing that should take priority is to talk to customers. That's more important than meeting with an investor, solving a design bug on a website," she said.

Responding to customer comments, Gobble is now offering GobbleUP, where $14.99 covers unlimited delivery for a month.

The delivery fee is the same, whether one orders one meal or several, from one chef or more. "It's not unusual for family members to want different meals," Garg said, noting that the company can even accommodate some food issues, such as gluten-sensitivity.

She's also learned that offering eight to 10 entrees daily is too much, that people can be overwhelmed with choice.

Garg asserts that there's no excuse not to personalize every experience. "I know what you ordered last week. ... I know allergies, what hour you eat, what day you eat. All this information should be respected and used to help the customer have a seamless and happy meal experience whenever they want," she said. She contrasts that with calling for take-out where you have to repeat your order every time.

Gobble's model appears to be paying off. "We heard from our customers that they love the home-cooked food on Gobble. That's why we started, but it's wonderful to hear. They order multiple times per week because of the way the food is cooked, when the ingredients are purchased, the quantity they're cooked in," she said.

Gobble has meals left over at the end of the day, but that doesn't appear to concern Garg.

"Olive Garden aims to have 9 percent waste every day. ... In the food world, the rule is, you should have leftover meals. If not, you have under-prepared for demand. The goal is not to sell out, but figure out how many meals you'd like left over," she said. Leftover meals are donated to a local homeless shelter, she added.

Although the company isn't breaking even yet, Garg says that "every day we're selling more meals." For now, she's focusing on customer service and recruiting new chefs, constantly increasing the variety of food offerings. The chefs set the entree prices.

So far, she has recruited more than 40 chefs, who present their proposed dishes at chef tastings — now at the California Avenue office rather than her home. Most work part-time, creating their specialties in nearby commercial kitchens, delivering to hubs where drivers then drop them off to customers.

Among them is Chef Mara, whose real name is Mara Lisa Ferraro. The mother of two lives in Burlingame but cooks in a commercial kitchen in Redwood City two days a week.

Ferraro grew up with Italian family cooking. "My grandmother was an avid cook; she cooked for family and friends. As a little girl, I watched my mom and grandmother cook," she said. She augmented her love of cooking with travel to Italy, visiting different regions and checking out how they prepared different styles of Italian food.

Now she prepares 30 to 40 meals a week, shopping and cooking on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Among her favorite dishes is chicken parmesan, two large chicken breasts in a tomato sauce, served with peas and a slice of sourdough to sop up the sauce.

Friends told her they were looking for home-cooked meals, but not necessarily from restaurants where they are cooked in mass quantities. Gobble chefs offer small-batch cooking.

"It loses a little flavor in larger quantities," she said, noting that there's more control. "We're putting a little more TLC into our food."

Ferraro bakes her dishes, then packages them in airtight, microwaveable containers (with clear heating instructions), then drops them off at her California Avenue hub.

Besides the cooking, what she loves is setting her own hours, deciding how many meals she wants to make each day. It's not exactly earning a living, but "for me, it's extra spending money. You have to really do it every day to make it work financially. Not everyone is looking for that," she said.

"For me, right now, I have a 6-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter. It's a perfect balance. I wanted to get back to work," she added.

"A lot of people don't have time to cook, or their kids' schedule — they run around and come home at 5:30. It's wonderful to have healthy choices.

"When I used to travel and worked in sales, I would come home and not want to eat in another restaurant for two weeks," she said.

Palo Alto Weekly Associate Editor Carol Blitzer can be emailed at cblitzer@paweekly.com.

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