During the pandemic, fine-dining restaurants with cuisine that was not very conducive to delivery and takeout had to get creative with supplemental revenue streams, from virtual events to CPG. But because of these challenges, business partners John Stubbs (owner of Jewel of the South restaurant in New Orleans) and chef Jon Sybert (owner of Washington D.C.’s Tail Up Goat and Reveler's Hour) were able to create Moveable Feast: a new restaurant meal delivery kit that uses real chef/restaurant recipes to send shareable multi-course meals to subscribers around the country.
Officially launching in April, Moveable Feast sits somewhere in between a traditional meal delivery kit with pre-proportioned raw ingredients and recipes, and restaurant delivery. Moveable Feast partners with a different chef/restaurant every month, and sends subscribers snacks and three-course meals for 3-4 or more people that are 80% done and just need to be finished on the stove or in the oven, plated, dressed, and garnished. Each meal kit comes with color-coded reusable containers with each portion of the meal, instruction cards, menus, and links to videos if you need further instruction.
“John and I both love nothing more than having guests over our homes, but we’ve both had those moments where you committed to having people over, and then suddenly it’s six o’clock, you’re having guests at seven and you find yourself in Whole Foods panic-picking up stuff because you did not prepare,” Jon Sybert said. “I wanted this experience to be something everyone could be a participant in and not just the host, hence why we leaned into the family-style part of this. That’s why we start with a couple of canapes so you can have something while the experience is underway. […] Then the meal is something everyone sits and enjoys together. […] We think it’s much more experiential than your typical meal delivery.”
The restaurants that the company works with just provide their recipes and dish names while Moveable Feast prepares each meal at their headquarters in Napa, Calif. The partner restaurants then receive a percentage of sales for each meal kit delivered, like a musical artist’s royalties.
“We kept thinking that small independent restaurants are rarely able to do much more than they can out of their physical space,” Jon Sybert said. “At some point we hit on this pretty coherent idea of building a kitchen space that executes for them […] This really resonated with me as an owner and chef because I would have loved to be able to do these meal kits out of my kitchen, but it was just not possible logistically. But the idea of having a partner you can work with to execute your culinary vision really stuck.”
With headquarters in Napa, Sybert and Stubbs said that they can recreate their partner restaurants’ dishes as faithfully as possible in their own kitchens. The meals are then packaged and shipped out in reusable Tupperware-like containers (a must-have for the company) to be more sustainable than the typical meal kit, which often creates a lot of waste with individual ingredients in sealed plastic. The fulfillment was more of a challenge since a delivery platform for fine-dining restaurants did not really exist, and the delivery/shipping model they settled on most closely resembles Goldbelly.
Moveable Feast customers can choose to subscribe to the service on either a seasonal basis (four dinner parties a year) or a monthly basis (12 dinner parties a year) for meals for 4, 8, or up to 12 guests for around $350 per meal ($85 per person). They can make reservations for dinner parties when they open every month and can choose to add on wine pairings. For the pilot year, Sybert and Stubbs have partnered with 12 of their James Beard and other award-winning friends and colleagues in the restaurant industry, many of whom were activists with the Independent Restaurant Coalition during the pandemic. Participating restaurants include Compère Lapin in New Orleans, Roots Southern Table in Dallas, Stubbs’ own Jewel of the South, Dirt Candy in New York, and Reverie in Washington, D.C.
“The restaurant has already done the work in our opinion, they already created the intellectual property that we are helping them monetize in a new way, and we are sending them royalty payments for their IP,” John Stubbs said. “[…] We are moving the industry in a direction that is more resilient and sustainable, and creating some of these additional revenue streams makes that more possible. It allows us to pay employees more, it allows us to provide more benefits and a better work-life balance as well.”
Menus are mostly upscale and innovative, with dishes like a Crab Rangoon dip, prime NY Strip steak, potato terrine, house cultured honey butter and cornbread, with miso chocolate chip cookies for dessert (all of which will be included in the March 2024 meal kit from Ernest in San Francisco).
Stubbs and Sybert settled on this form of meal kit that allowed home cooks to put together a meal they’d be proud of, while still being easier than cooking everything from scratch with these dinner parties in mind:
“We didn't want it to be like you just ordered delivery, opened the bag and put it on the table,” John Stubbs said. “There needed to be that opportunity for the host to play host and put their fingerprints on the evening […] but we also wanted it to be something that was very quick and easy that you could do after a busy week, and flip around in 30 minutes.”
The business partners are already working on the next year’s-worth of chef and restaurant partners. Moving forward, they want to be able to expand their platform to be more of a robust marketplace where guests can purchase more items a la carte, and create meals from different cuisines at different price points.
“We want to be the primary brands that people think about when they think about fine dining,” John Stubbs said. “Whether you want the whole experience for a dinner party for eight arriving at your door or you’re just looking for some good quality ingredients, from pantry items to proteins, from suppliers that typically only work with restaurants, we’ll have these available for you.”
Contact Joanna at [email protected]