Thailand native Srisaowalak Pobpuch learned to cook from her mother, who ran a popular food stall in the Wat Krut neighborhood of Bangkok. After moving to Georgia, she wanted to teach Atlantans how authentic Thai dishes “should” taste—as she believes many local restaurants dilute the flavors. She learned about Shef—an online marketplace for homemade food—on social media, and decided to join. Now, she sells massaman curry, Tom Yum Gai, and more, three days a week.
“I follow the same recipes and techniques as my mother and enjoy being able to earn a living doing what I am passionate about,” says Pobpuch, who hopes to open a food truck.
Since joining last year, she has seen a steady stream of orders increase weekly. Pobpuch is one of thousands of local cooks who sell food from their homelands on Shef, which launched services in Atlanta this past December. Every cook’s page details their personal story and connection to the cuisine and recipes, along with ingredient information for each dish. Orders must be placed at one to two days in advance, and on delivery day, the meals are delivered in an insulated package with instructions for reheating.
Joey Grassia, who co-founded Shef with Alvin Salehi in 2019, explains more:
How did you come up with the idea for Shef?
Alvin and I began Shef with one simple mission: to expand economic opportunity to communities in need, specifically immigrants and refugees struggling to create a better future for their families. As the sons of immigrants, we witnessed the hardship our parents faced to build a better life for us, and held a deep desire to repay an immeasurable debt.
Our parents and countless others have fought against all odds to provide us with the opportunities we have today, and we wanted to build a platform that would reach back and provide a helping hand to the next generation of transitioning families.
We named the company “Shef” as an homage to our own mothers and so many others who work tirelessly to fill our homes with love and, of course, homemade meals.
How do you find cooks in each city?
We spread the word about Shef through local community networks and social media groups. It also takes off by word of mouth in a lot of communities. We often hear that cooks on Shef learned about the platform from family, friends, or neighbors who thought it would be a great opportunity for them.
Why might diners choose to order from Shef rather than a restaurant delivery platform?
What makes Shef so special is the enormous diversity of unique, wholesome dishes that are available—dishes you can’t normally find outside of your own home. Shefs are preparing dishes passed down through generations and crafting them as they would for their own families. You can’t find the same quality and authenticity on any other food delivery platform.
In my own family, we have a dish like this from Italy. It’s called braciole, and you can’t find it in any restaurant because of the time and effort it takes to prepare. Growing up, I would look forward to the holidays each year, so we could enjoy this dish together. Then, I met Gessica, a talented Shef who immigrated from Tuscany, and, for the first time ever, I was able to order braciole for myself and the Shef team. Having (and sharing) that taste of home, especially since my mother passed away, meant everything to me.
How do you ensure food safety with so many variables?
Local regulations vary by region but, at a minimum, all cooks are required to pass an accredited food safety certification exam, undergo a food quality assessment, and be subject to regular food quality checks. In regions that have yet to implement expansive home cooking laws, cooks are required to cook out of commercial kitchens or other legally permissible facilities.
How does Shef help recent immigrants?
Shef was created with the goal of giving immigrants and other underserved communities an opportunity to earn meaningful income doing what they love. Access to Shef would have been an economic lifeline for my parents had it existed when I was growing up. We’re proud that a significant percentage of cooks on Shef today are immigrants.
In response to the recent Afghan refugee crisis, Shef is proud to provide an immediate opportunity for newly arrived Afghans to earn income as they transition into their new lives in the United States. In addition to expediting the applications of any Afghan refugee, Shef sets aside $3,500 per refugee to assist with supplies, training, and marketing support.
The existing Shef community is also giving back to recent immigrants—cooks on Shef have donated nearly 1,000 meals to recently arrived Afghan families. Leading this effort is Afghan Shef Laila Mir, who makes and delivers nearly a hundred home-cooked Afghan meals for refugees across the San Francisco Bay Area every week.
What are some successes you’ve seen?
We’ve expanded to 10 states across the country and nearly 2 million meals have been served by the talented cooks in these communities. Our platform now provides income to thousands of talented Shefs across the country.
What are your goals for the future of Shef?
In addition to expanding to new cities and regions, we’ll be working hard to foster community among cooks on the Shef platform and connect them with new customers across our existing markets. Shef is also leading advocacy efforts to advance home cooking laws across the country.