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Moving the restaurant home: New social networks connects cooks and diners

By Michael Warren

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, April 23 2014 12:07 p.m. MDT

Cookapp describes itself as a marketing service that simply matches chefs with customers who make "donations." Its founders say they are eager to work with governments to create safe and legal spaces for these dinner parties to thrive. Meanwhile, they say they are following the law and paying taxes, and urges hosts to do so as well.

"It really is a murky line," acknowledged Cookapp's CEO and co-founder, Pedro Rivas. "What we do is allow chefs to host dinner parties. People are paying a donation to cover part of the cost of hosting a dinner party. That way we can operate here a little safer without running into the legal mumbo jumbo, particularly in New York, which is a litigious city."

How involved companies are in vetting hosts can vary. Cookapp "offers a more curated experience," Rivas says, by evaluating every would-be host beforehand. The company sends a freelance photographer to a dinner party to take pictures and judge the cook's hosting ability, food quality and the setting's comfort and cleanliness. Like the others, Cookapp also has insurance that covers chefs to some extent in case a meal goes terribly wrong.

Participating cooks say they shouldn't be regulated like restaurants, which have to get certificates, permits and licenses from multiple city and state agencies. New York food providers also must post letter grades from annual sanitary inspections.

But as millions of dollars move into this "shared economy," regulatory oversight is inevitable. Airbnb agreed last month to start charging hotel taxes on San Francisco customers, and wants to do the same in New York, where opponents of the service say it fosters illegal nuisance rentals. And shared-ride services recently agreed to limit their drivers and require insurance in Portland, Oregon. "Of course there is a very grey area, and we want to make it as white as we can," Bermudez said.

Kacey Cherry in Buenos Aires contributed to this report.

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