Meals Marketplace Munchery Adds New Series A Investors Menlo, Sherpa Ventures & More, Hires In-House Chefs

Munchery, the Bay Area startup delivering professionally prepared gourmet meals you can order from web or mobile, is announcing today it has closed on the remaining amount of its previously reported $4 million in Series A funding, bringing in new investors Shervin Pishevar and Scott Stanford’s Sherpa Ventures, Menlo Ventures, and Howard Behar, the former President and head of operations at Starbucks, who invested via Anthos Capital. This makes Munchery one of the first investments to emerge from the new Sherpa Ventures, joining others like Cluster and BlackOps. At the time of the original funding announcement, Munchery had raised $3.3 million of an ongoing $4 million Series A, but while the startup closed on the additional amounts in late winter and early spring, they weren't able to disclose due to the SEC-mandated quiet period associated with Sherpa's own raise. Currently serving the wider San Francisco Bay Area, Munchery was founded in spring 2010 by CEO Tri Tran and CTO Conrad Chu who, then, as young parents and engineers, were looking for an easier way to have healthy but convenient meals at home. Like most of us, they didn't want to have to turn to fast food when pressed for time. Meanwhile, not all takeout is healthy, either. Munchery was soon born to address this need, offering a variety of meal options, including vegetarian dishes, organic meals, those for people with dietary restrictions (e.g "gluten-free"), and more. Meals are organized and tagged things like "wheat-free," or "low carb," allowing customers to find the kind of meal that's right for them. Until now, the meals were prepared by independent chefs who would cook and plate them, optionally renting space in Munchery's commercial kitchen to do so. Munchery helped chefs figure out how many meals to prepare that day and managed the delivery side of the business. These chefs, or as Munchery calls them "Chef Partners," are now going to be joined by in-house teams known as "Munchery Resident Chefs," the company says, adding that it plans to pay these chefs two times what Executive Chefs make elsewhere, in addition to offering benefits, stock options, paid holidays, weekday schedules and other perks. The schedules at Munchery, in fact, were something that appealed to its chefs in the first place - the restaurant industry typically requires late nights and weekends, but Munchery chefs could choose to just work during the day. However, not all chefs wanted to work independently, so by opening up paid, full-time "employee" positions, Munchery hopes to recruit more quality talent. The company says it has so far snagged one local "big" chef, but can't announce who that is just yet. He or she will join other new Resident Chefs, Alex Reccio (former Executive Chef of Limon, and an alum of Boulevard, The Cosmopolitan and Pomelo) and Matthew Urban (former Executive Chef of SF’s Yuzu and Seattle’s Blue Onion Bistro with over 15 years experience), as well as new Culinary Manager Jon Helquist, who spent a decade at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, and was executive Chef at Seghesio Family Vineyards in Napa. The need to hire in-house chefs is due to growth, the company claims. They had begun to sell out of their meals by noon too often, or barely ended up having entrees left in the day when most people began to plan their dinners. According to Michael Schaecher, Director of Marketing at Munchery, the company is now selling over 1 dish per minute every weekday (while open) and 1,500 dishes per day. To date, Munchery has sold over 200,000 meals. For comparison's sake, in November 2012, the company reported 25 percent month-over-month growth, and over 60,000 meals served. However, currently, Munchery says it's seeing 20 percent month-over-month growth. "We're basically hybrid marketplace, similar to Fab now doing in-house design and creation too," says Schaecher. "For most food companies that feature a chef, the chef is really just a celebrity endorser who is managing tons of low-level prep cooks in a factory-like environment. Those chefs are hardly even involved in preparing your food," he adds, explaining how Munchery is different from the celeb-run restaurants. In addition, the company is also announcing expanded service to Cupertino and Sunnyvale as of a few weeks ago, and ordering hours in San Francisco have been extended to 6 pm, up from 4 pm previously. Other areas can order as late as 3 pm for same-day, 1-hour delivery, up from 2 pm and 2-hour delivery. Munchery's meals, as TechCrunch previously reviewed, were tasty. But gourmet meals aren't something all people can afford on a regular basis, nor need to, which could present a challenge when trying to expand the service further, especially given the busy space Munchery competes in today. Several other meal delivery startups exist, offering everything from ingredients to fully-cooked meals (yes, sometimes even healthy ones), including companies like Plated, PlateJoy, Blue Apron, Eat CLUB, SpoonRocket, Fresh Dish, and others. And all these still have to take on cheap fast food and takeout options, too. It's definitely not an easy battle to be won, but the fact that there are companies trying to figure out how to make healthy food scale is heartening.
Sarah Perez

Sarah Perez is a Writer at Gigabuzz, focused on covering early-stage startups, especially those with a technology focus and great perks.

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