Startup Spotlight - Hungry House
All Things Venture #046
Hey Everyone! Dez here from All Things Venture. Some fun personal news. I turned 27 last week!
27 is honestly a weird age to me, there’s nothing independently exciting about it. It’s not a milestone year. It doesn’t signal a drastic shift to the world of who you are or what you’re able to do. It’s just 27. It’s a year that can easily fade into the background like a shy cousin at a family reunion. Surprisingly though, 27 has easily been, by far, my favorite birthday of my twenties. Candidly, it’s been so special because my wonderful girlfriend, Tess, snagged a reservation at 63 Clinton Street which is a new restaurant in the Lower East Side to help me celebrate the occassion. Started by two childhood friends Sam Clonts & Raymond Trinh, 63 Clinton Street is making some absolute magic in the kitchen. And the magic they make? It’s fucking excellent. I felt like I was in an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. I was taken on a whirlwind cultural/culinary experience and learned about the communal aspect of making wine in France, the process for finding small batch whiskey producers in Tucson, Arizona, and the subtle nuances of trying to run a restaurant gunning for a Michelin star. In any event, if you have the chance to go to 63 Clinton Street, you absolutely should. You won’t regret it, it’s worth the money ($92 for a 7 course tasting menu), and you get a front row seat to an intimate production that is basically the equivalent of saying “let’s give people the highest quality fine dining experience but make it as reasonably affordable as possible”
The way the team worked together, the demand they currently have (350 person waitlist + booked out for the next month) the ingrained/growing culture of experimentation, their intense focus on delivering value for the customer - if they were a technology startup you would say that they have absolutely found product market fit. Lighting in a bottle moments are so rare to experience, so it was such a treat to be able to see two sides of the same coin (or bottle? to hold the metaphor?) with both 63 Clinton Street and today’s Startup Spotlight, Hungry House in pretty recent succession.
I am so so so excited to share today’s article with you all because the same qualities 63 Clinton Street have that are preparing them for success (i.e the team, the focus on customers, the value creation), HungryHouse has as well. Kristen Barnett, the founder of Hungry House, and a fellow Cornell alum who, fun fact, was also my TA in undergrad - is incredible and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to help share the Hungry House story. As always, let’s dive right in.
Kristen! Tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to start Hungry House?
I originally started my career in management consulting with The Boston Consulting Group, however, after some health issues (with Chronic Lyme Disease) I actually turned to dietary change to feel better, and ended up experiencing somewhat of a medical miracle, recovering very quickly. That forever changed the course of my career; after that moment I became dedicated to the food industry and obsessed with the challenge of how to make good food at scale.
Hungry House is a reaction to trends I’ve borne witness to in the ghost kitchen industry; I saw issues with quality control, profitability, and reliance on the third party delivery platforms. I wanted to create a company that supported the next generation of culinary leaders, but knew that it would require a total overhaul of the ghost kitchen model, focusing on quality in the supply chain and execution of the food and pairing that with a complementary and brand-forward tech experience. I wanted to ensure that the innovation in the industry didn’t continue to generate more cheap, chicken wing concepts, but rather, elevated new ideas that could excite consumers.
What is Hungry House, and what makes you so excited about innovating in Food & Bev?
Hungry House is essentially a ghost kitchen; we partner with chefs and brands to cook their signature dishes in our kitchens and feature them on our native web platform, selling this food for pickup and delivery to the surrounding area. We enable this new generation of culinary leaders, who maybe have a large following on instagram or tik tok to continue to do what they do best, whether it be storytelling, pop-ups, recipe videos or beautiful photography, while we execute their menus in our kitchens, selling their food online and paying them a royalty.
I’m excited about innovating within the F&B industry more broadly because I believe we are in the midst of a true revolution for how consumers think about, access and interact with food in their lives. Now, you can watch amazing videos on tik tok to learn new recipes or order practically anything you want and have it delivered to your house. These are massive changes that continue to evolve; I’m simply excited about the fact that I think we’re in the first innings of the impact of food delivery, and Hungry House is right in the middle of this change.
You recently said you like to refer to Hungry House as the “anti-ghost-kitchen”, what does that mean?
Being “anti-ghost-kitchen” to me pushes people to ask deeper questions about some of the issues in the industry, while also positioning Hungry House as a company that thinks in a very different manner compared to some peers in the industry. At this point, most chefs are pretty aware of ghost kitchens, and many do not have a good impression or understanding of what they do. The prospect of selling your food from a dark kitchen down an alley to people through third party delivery platforms with a completely homogenized experience doesn’t sound that inspiring to many creative minds. Alternatively, some models utilize existing restaurants to cook a secondary menu from their kitchen to sell it for delivery, and these models certainly have their challenges with guest experience, quality, and limitations on the design of the menu.
Hungry House is designed to be the anti-dote to many of these structural issues. We are solely dedicated to cooking these chefs’ menus in our kitchen, providing a level of focus and infrastructure that typically doesn’t exist. We have thoughtfully built our supply chain, utilizing great suppliers like Happy Valley Meat Co. and Burlap & Barrel, which many chefs know and love. And we have a complete focus on driving a strong native business, leveraging social media and SEO to drive consumers through our website, where we share the stories and brands of these chefs, enabling consumers to build a stronger relationship with them while purchasing the food.
We’ve talked before on how you plan on unlocking the IP of food creators/influencers, can you explain more of your vision there?
I believe that our next great culinary voices will come from creators on social media; Hungry House allows them to monetize their audiences. These relationships between influencers and their audiences are incredibly strong so when an influencer decides to monetize their following, they must make careful decisions about what is in alignment with their brand. I like to say that it’s not like being a fashion influencer, as you don’t have to eat the shirt you buy online; for a food influencer, the quality of execution is harder and takes a very thoughtful approach to ensure the partnership is brand-positive.
However, with executing the food well, and an online ordering experience that is design- and content-forward, we see Hungry House as the essential infrastructure for the biggest names in food of the future, who’s career paths will look different than past generations of culinary leaders. We hope that they can thrive and build an incredible career with Hungry House.
Who is the ideal customer for Hungry House and why should they order their next meal from you?
Our ideal customer is someone who follows chefs on Instagram or TikTok, who keeps a list of good restaurants to go to, and orders food delivery at least semi-regularly. We target consumers that crave something new and cool, as they are already frequent users of online ordering, and we can offer a differentiated experience and access to great new menus.
What defines success for Hungry House over the next few months?
We are solely focused on proving out our model in our first location in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. For us, this means building an equally strong kiosk-ordering business and food delivery business, demonstrating the strength of our business model that captures multiple revenue streams while also being able to drive high frequency of customers due to our variety of menus served from our kitchen. We are raising our Seed round this winter as well so that we can finance growth through 2022, the development of our mobile app and a core team.
What advice do you have for any aspiring entrepreneurs?
My advice is to focus on the problems that you want to solve and combine that with a passion of yours. Especially if you are creating a company in a space you are intimately familiar with, you’ll have stronger instincts than most when it comes to pinpointing problems that are worth solving. Also, drink lots of water.
Last question, who is the one celebrity, or up and coming chef you want to partner with at Hungry House and why?
My dream chef to partner with is Sophia Roe; not only does she have incredible talent in the kitchen, her own show on VICE and was featured as a chef for the Met Gala, she also uses her voice to advocate for mental health and other issues. She is someone who both produces beautiful content and uses her platform for good, and has built a following (including myself!) with whom it clearly resonates. She’s an incredibly modern version of a chef and I would love for Hungry House to work with her
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