Dinner parties are back, and they’re fun! But what’s not so fun is all the preparation and pack down. What if someone could do it all for you? Entrepreneurs Jodie Mlikota and Nicky Jurd designed an online entertaining platform to bring foodies and cooks together.
As the original celebrity chef Julia Child once quipped, ‘Only the best people like food.’ And right she was. For as long as time, people have shared stories, created relationships and launched ideas over food, and for as long as time the question has always been, ‘do I have to do the cleaning up?’
In 2018, Cairns business operators Jodie Mlikota and Nicky Jurd launched their business concept, Gathar – an online entertainment platform described as ‘the AirBnB for foodies’. The concept of Gathar is simple: match people who love to cook with those who love to entertain. Jodie says the idea began, like all good ideas, with a problem. Jodie loved entertaining, but frustration at the end of the night running around and cleaning up meant she rarely got a chance to connect with guests and didn’t enjoy it at all. The sharing economy had well and truly taken off, so the idea to move it into the culinary scene was developed. Booking private chefs and caterers for intimate at-home entertaining seemed a little cost-prohibitive so opening it up to people who genuinely loved to cook for others seemed like a smashing idea.
“Having friends over is no longer a chore! Gathar takes care of the shopping, prepping, cooking and cleaning – leaving you, the hosts, to simply enjoy spending time with loved ones,” says Jodie.
After six months of testing (and tasting), Jodie assembled what she describes as the “Gathar co-founding dream team”, with the web developing superpowers of foodies Nicky Jurd and Kaj Haffenden – brilliant cooks and entertainers in their own right, but not considering leaving professions to cook full time. The platform was launched in Cairns in September 2018, with Brisbane shortly afterwards, and is now live across three states and in ten locations including Byron Bay, Sydney and Melbourne.
The Gathar marketplace offers the opportunity to turn a passion for cooking into cash. Gathar ‘Culinarians’ (the cooks) design their own menus and deliver a restaurant-quality dinner party experience, leaving all of the administration and marketing to Gathar. Gathar culinarians are encouraged to put two or three menus online at different price points, while dinner hosts then scroll through the website, select and book in the one they want. The platform is free for chefs and cooks to use, with Gathar taking a percentage fee from every booking.
While anyone can apply, they have to have food safety handling qualifications and industry experience, and are then vetted by the Gathar before being approved to cook on the platform “They need to be cooking already in some capacity and doing more than preparing meals for their immediate family,” Jodie says. “Our culinarians don’t necessarily want to start their own restaurant, but they enjoy cooking food for others to enjoy. It’s about being able to showcase dishes that people may not have tried.”
Dinner party menus range in price from $65 to $140 per person for a minimum of six people, with individual guests able to pay for their portion through the website ahead of time. More recently, Gathar has also expanded to include grazing tables. “They are so hot right now,” laughs Nicky. “They are absolutely the runaway success story here – they’re great for all kinds of different events, baby showers, birthdays, corporate launches, all while keeping things low key yet Instagrammably beautiful.”
Where to now for this extraordinary start-up story?
“Our 2020 plan is to keep growing in the Australian market, and broaden our customer set wider, before taking the concept global,” says Jodie. “We’ve dipped our toes into the corporate field, and created awesome dining experiences for some smaller weddings recently. Weddings take it to a new level though and are probably more involved than what most passionate cooks are used to, which is why we’ve opened up the platform to boutique caterers as well.
“Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, but like all good businesses, our goal is to find where people’s pain points are to find a solution that best works for them.”