Not everyone is a culinary wizard whipping up peekaboo cakes and fresh pasta dishes in their home kitchen. And definitely not everyone is totally crushing their career right out of college. So to find someone who’s doing both is basically like finding a unicorn. But that’s exactly who co-founder and Head of Community at Umi Kitchen, Hallie Meyer, is: part culinary confidant, part successful entrepreneur. The oldest daughter of famed NYC restaurateur Danny Meyer, Hallie is breaking through the crowded meal delivery industry with a new app that connects New Yorkers with the freshly cooked meal that their homesick hearts desire. We talked to Hallie about food, starting a business at such a young age, and collaborating with two other co-founders.
B+C: Give us the full scoop on Umi Kitchen. What is it, how does it work, and what makes it awesome?
Hallie Meyer: Umi Kitchen is a home-cooked meal delivery service. We deliver delicious meals, made with ingredients you can pronounce by exceptional home cooks in your area. We work with a passionate community of home cooks who prepare small batches of their delicious signature dishes ranging from Whole30 and Southern fare to Paleo, Indian, Italian, and vegan options. We believe a meal that’s cooked in small batches, with a high level of care you can’t get from traditional takeout, really offers an experience that doesn’t yet exist. Mainly, a feeling that this is something that was made specially for you! So customers know that someone spent time grinding their curry paste, writing a personal note and making sure that garnish was just right.
B+C: Talk to us a little bit about how your time at Yale University led you to co-founding Umi Kitchen.
HM: In the center of New Haven, there’s a one-acre organic farm run by Yale students through the Yale Sustainable Food Program (YSFP). A friend and I decided to start a catering company on campus in partnership with the YSFP to make sure all of their speaker events were well attended and included delicious food. Through this, we ended up serving everyone from professors to Mario Batali. We received a ton of support in New Haven that I don’t think we would’ve were it not for the YSFP.
Down the road and while I was still at Yale, I met my co-founder Khalil. He was craving a real home-cooked meal and decided to post on Craigslist, offering to pay someone to make him one. Within 24 hours, he had 17 responses. His idea was inspired by his mom (his “Umi”), an immigrant from Lebanon who used to cook Lebanese food to sell at her local farmers’ market when she first came to the US. We met while eating the meal he sourced on Craigslist and decided to team up, test this idea out, and build a community of cooks to create small batches of their best signature meals.
Our first Umi cook in New Haven was Khalil’s mother. She flew out from Arizona and cooked 80 meals in four days out of his studio apartment, and we delivered them to New Haven students and families. After successfully serving over 500 meals to the New Haven community with dozens of Umi cooks, we decided to bring the idea to New York, where busy people are always looking for a way to put real food on their dinner tables. We’re excited to be unleashing the hidden home cooking talent within diverse communities of Brooklyn and Manhattan.
B+C: Your dad is NYC restaurateur Danny Meyer, so you grew up with strong ties to the food industry. How has that behind-the-scenes access to the food business helped with launching Umi?
HM: I’m grateful to my dad for always lending an ear when I need advice, encouragement, or a reality check. But I’m grateful to both my mom and dad for instilling in me an appreciation of good food, its makers, and where it comes from since I was very little. I’m pretty sure my mom had me teething on wine corks.
The best advice from both of their well-seasoned perspectives? Have fun. If you aren’t, it’s a good sign that something needs to change.
B+C: You’re only 23. Do you think your age has helped or hurt you in starting and running your own business?
HM: There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t wish I had a few more years of life under my belt to take into work. But then again, if you’re going to do something as wild (wonderfully wild) as launch and grow a startup, now is a great time to do it.
B+C: As one of three co-founders, what’s your best advice for working collaboratively with others?
HM: Listening to someone is the best gift you can give a teammate (or friend, or partner, or anyone in life for that matter!)
B+C: Aside from being a bonafide #girlboss, you’re a kickass home cook too. What’s your go-to dish for a first date and girls’ night out?
HM: My boyfriend and I are really into making pizzas and having people over to enjoy them. If you get the crust right and the yeast behaves well, you can have your guests do their own toppings. Then, all you really have to do is make great toppings like caramelized onions, a perfect tomato sauce, and shaved fresh corn (if it’s fall!), and it’s nearly impossible for your guests to make a bad pizza. For a girls’ night out? Ice cream at Davey’s!
B+C: What’s next for Umi? Any chance all of us outside of NYC can get our hands on some home-cooked deliciousness soon?
HM: Stay hungry and stay tuned! And let us know if you know any incredibly talented cooks in NYC. We’re always looking for the best.
Tweet us your favorite home-cooked meal @BritandCo!
(Photos via Umi Kitchen)