In April 2019, Claire Ladkin joined Origin Workspace with a simple mission: to revolutionise the way we eat at home. Fast-forward 18-months to October 15th 2020 and All About The Cooks is born, making it possible for the people of Bristol to buy food from talented cooks who live nearby.
We spoke to Claire about her ambitious tech start-up, and her passion for food and people.
What is All About The Cooks and how exactly does it work?
All About The Cooks is an online marketplace. Essentially, it is a place for people to sell what they make. Think Air BnB, Etsy or Not On The High Street, except All About The Cooks is for food.
On the website, you will find a list of cooks who live near you in Bristol. Each cook has their own profile page which tells you a bit about them, as well as what food they are cooking and when. Some food is made to order, whereas some cooks batch-cook on certain days.
Some of the cooks have spent years working as chefs in restaurants, like Giuseppe from Ashton others are the latest of many generations, taught secret family recipes. But you can be sure that behind every home-cooked creation is a person who shares our love for food.
From Trung’s authentic Vietnamese style meals and Egyptian-born Mona’s Chicken Mandi to Eva’s Raspberry and Rum Punch Cake and Emilia’s Deep-Dish Apple Crumble Pie, there is already an eclectic mix of people, food, and cooking styles waiting to be discovered.
Customers simply browse cooks and food online and chose what they want to buy. Once they have added items to the shopping basket and paid online, the cook will get in touch to approve the order and arrange delivery or collection arrangements.
All About The Cooks is a connector. We do not touch the food, so the idea is that this is something that could happen anywhere. We just need the supply and demand of cooks and buyers.
Where did the idea come from?
I’ve always been passionate about eating real food that comes from kitchens, not factories. That’s been behind my values in life as well as my six-year involvement in the food sector in Bristol.
And when a friend said to me “wouldn’t it be great if you could have takeaway food, but from home-cooks”. I didn’t think the idea of cooks standing around at home waiting for orders quite worked, but it got me thinking. Several months later, I purchased a jar of home-made lemon curd from the Square Food Foundation and I was suddenly struck with a ‘what if’ moment. What if it were easier to buy these things online? And, what if I could do something to make it easier for people to buy food from talented people living nearby? Then I started to think about how I would find these extraordinary people in Bristol.
So how do you find cooks, or how do they find you?
The very first cook to join the platform was someone I knew from 91 Ways. This community-focused social enterprise in Bristol works to celebrate the city’s 91 language communities, using the power of food to bring communities together. Word of mouth has also played a part – most cooks know other cooks and so there is a real community feel about what we are doing. Other cooks have found us through our Instagram channel.
We’ve even found cooks by being in Origin Workspace. One of the members here approached me about his sister, who makes great cakes and biscuits. Shortly after that initial conversation, Polly joined us. Her Orio Brownies and New York Style Cookies are to die for!
What’s it like being part of Origin Workspace?
There’s a real sense of community and a great resource of skills here. I have made some fantastic connections and collaborations from being part of the space. I met with some people from BUD to discuss possible ways to approach the Minimum Viable Product from a tech point of view. Cook Corporate, a boutique firm of solicitors here were responsible for those oh-so-important legals, and by talking to Tech Talent, we found our web developer. The contacts we have found just by being here have been incredibly valuable.
I do believe that people have taken the idea and the brand more seriously because of the environment. We invite cooks here for an initial meeting when they first get in touch, the space is very impressive and professional.
There are, in normal circumstances, lots of events that take place at Origin Workspace. Last year I attended some of the Social Media Week Bristol events and participated in The Pitch, a business start-up competition. Its buzzy to have these things going on around you.
I have also found it important to separate work from home. Even when it was just me, and I could just have easily of done it at home, I still found it important to come to work.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced since beginning this journey?
This is an idea that requires a high-functioning ecommerce platform and I’m a non-tech founder, so being able to make the decisions on what technology to use and why, has been a huge challenge. Yet I do believe that I am well-positioned to be at the forefront of this idea. I believe that this is a business that needs to be founded by a middle-aged woman. It’s a business about food and people. Technology is just the thing that makes it happen; but it can’t happen without it.
Being able to talk to people in the space who know more about technology and ecommerce than I do was exceptionally helpful. We are in a test phase and I didn’t think it would be a valid test unless we had certain key functions. Choosing the right platform and making the right decisions about the technology would have been a real struggle without having the people here to bounce ideas around.
We have created the platform – it’s not perfect, but it absolutely does the job, and was made with a very lean budget. I feel we have shown that the concept is attractive to objective SEIS investors, and we now know that people want to sell their food. We are now at the stage where we are testing whether people want to buy home-cooked food in this way.
Our challenge now is to tell as many people about it as possible. We need to get All About The Cooks in people’s minds as a new option. It is not something that has existed before, and it does not provide instant gratification like the more familiar option of getting a takeaway.
What has been your biggest success since joining Origin Workspace?
The biggest achievement is that we have managed to get the website live in October with twenty cooks, and another twenty in the pipeline, during a year that has been full of so much uncertainty. We were due to launch in April 2020 but with everything going on at that time, it did not feel right so we postponed to the Autumn.
The moment that made me cry was getting our first revenue. Somebody bought something through the platform, and it all worked. That day, the cook made £100 and I found that really satisfying. I remember thinking to myself, this is what it is really all about.
I also know we have people selling food through the platform, who wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. I feel a great sense of pride in knowing that we are enabling people to make money that was simply not available to them before. To see the social impact that I had envisaged happening by looking at money going out to pay cooks is really rewarding.
That impact underpins the huge ambition we have for the business. We don’t actually touch the food, so spreading to other cities should follow. We hope that before long we will be able to see the social impact happening anywhere where people love to cook, and people love to eat.
Aiming to provide a solution to busy working families, people wanting to try something new, dinner party hosts, and even those wanting to send food as a gift to friends and loved ones, the coming months will certainly see the concept being tried and tested in a city famed for its love of food.