A play on the culinary phrase “mise en place,” the new meal delivery platform MisenBox links local chefs to customers who don’t mind doing a little extra work to prepare restaurant-quality meals at home.
During the pandemic, Thabo Lenneiye, one of the co-founders of MisenBox, noticed that most industries tended to provide advantages to the “bigger players” and that, “the smaller guys are always at a disadvantage,” she says. Coming from an architecture and product design background, her experience designing and analyzing digital solutions coupled with an interest in entrepreneurship and supporting independent restaurants led to MisenBox.
Seeing the challenges the restaurant industry faced, she initially toyed with the idea of ghost kitchens and building a communal working space, but after seeing restaurants in different cities turn to meal kits as an alternative revenue stream, the idea for MisenBox was born.
“It’s not a major pressure point on restaurant operations because you produce these during your downtime,” she says of the chef-curated meal kits. “All the ingredients are ready to go, so you’re basically just putting these in a package and sending them to your consumer.”
The platform launched in this January, and current meals from restaurant participants include ramen from Uzu, pho from Sprig & Sprout, tacos from El Centro and seafood paella from Xiquet, among others.
Lenneiye collaborates with restaurants to identify menu items that work best for the delivery platform. Typically, these are dishes already being prepared for takeout or dine-in service and have ingredients that will ship well with ice packs inside insulated boxes. Packaging and promotional materials are provided and all logistics are streamlined: The restaurants simply box up the meal components, and MisenBox delivery partners take care of the rest.
One of the main differentiators from other local meal-kit services? Nationwide shipping. Through MisenBox, local restaurants aren’t bound by a specific mile radius limit and can tap into a larger audience, especially since ingredients are kept cold-refrigerated and then sealed for travel in insulated boxes.
“We got quite a lot of restaurants interested in it because it’s a slightly different customer set, and so they’re actually expanding the customers they’re serving as well,” Lenneiye says.
Another perk? Since the cooking and plating are done at home, restaurants don’t have to worry about their food staying warm during transit as they would with traditional takeout and delivery.
Along with ingredients and tips to prepare the meals at home, each kit comes with background information on the chef and dish itself, creating a more personal connection to the meal. Take, for example, Uzu’s vegan ramen kit. On the branded recipe card, customers will find an ingredient list with recommendations for add-ons or extra garnishes like soft poached eggs, nori and scallions. On the flipside of the card, read more about Chef Hiro’s culinary background, the history of Uzu and what makes their white miso-based vegan ramen just as savory as classic ramen.
“We spend quite a bit of time with the chef and restaurant to understand the philosophy behind the food and what’s special about the particular dish,” Lenneiye adds. “What we’re trying to do is create a more immersive experience.”
Lenneiye hopes MisenBox will expand beyond just being a meal-kit service to include more virtual experiences, especially as people are still searching for ways to stay socially active while remaining isolated during the pandemic. After teaming up with a local restaurant for a successful Lunar New Year dumpling-making class that saw nationwide appeal (dumpling kits were sent to Colorado, Illinois, California and Seattle), she hopes to create more virtual and interactive cooking experiences for alumni groups, corporate teams, residential building communities and other groups all while supporting smaller, independent restaurants.
“There’s this benefit in restaurants being able to create incremental income streams that are beyond the four walls of the space they have,” she says. “That’s all part of the dream: to help empower the restaurants.”
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