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Empowering Cooks to Sell Meals From Their Homes

Charlie Wong and Matt Jorgensen are the Co-Founders and Co-CEOs of Josephine, a startup that empowers cooks to prepare and sell meals from their home kitchens. Wong and Jorgensen believe in giving these chefs the tools they need to become micro-entrepreneurs, from liability insurance to bulk purchasing partners and offline skill shares. “The goal is to have the cooks of our society be able to flourish and have agency,” said Wong, “to be able to have relationships that they get emotional payoff from, and also to be in charge of their own financial success.” Jorgensen views Josephine as an “invisible technology layer connecting cooks to their communities” and wrote in a Medium post in May that Josephine is committed to upholding the standards of a good employer through empowerment and advocacy.

Jorgensen and Wong acknowledge and are working to mitigate the public health concerns raised by cooks preparing food for purchase out of their homes. Josephine paused its operations in Alameda County, California, in May of 2016 after environmental health regulators served cooks with cease-and-desist orders. Wong discussed how Josephine and regulators are ultimately on the same side. Even beyond co-authoring legislation, Wong said, Josephine is interested in working with regulatory committees to collaborate on things like goal setting, data sharing, and accountability measures.

Josephine’s starting point, said Jorgensen, was to approach the informal food economy that existed to varying degrees across the country, and give cooks resources and support to serve food in a way that’s healthy and safe. “We believe that American food policy was written for the industrial economy — dominated by anonymous retail sales, opaque supply chains and mass production — and was never meant to be applied to neighborhood potlucks, home chefs and church bake sales,” Jorgensen wrote in his Medium post. “But new technology is making these age-old private sphere activities more publicly accessible, so we also believe that existing legal frameworks need to be updated.”

Ultimately, according to Wong, Josephine endeavors to embody the tension between “fast, ‘break things’ innovation and civic-minded responsibility.”