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New subscription platform Demi lets fans pay chefs to chat, exchange recipes, and mull over dream menus

  • Demi, a Patreon-like platform for food-service workers, has accrued 700 subscribers and raised $1.5 million in funding.
  • Subscribers pay $10 per month for access to a group chat run by a celebrity chef.
  • Demi will launch its app in April and has "hundreds" of chefs ready to use it, said founder Ian Moore.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The best chefs are usually something of a mystery to even their most ardent admirers, the culinary creation and its creator often separated by a swinging kitchen door.

Demi, a new subscription-based platform that bills itself as a Patreon for food-service workers, hopes to cash in on this aura of mystery, providing a financial lifeline to a struggling industry by charging foodie fans for access to a chef-run group chat.

The platform was founded by Ian Moore, a Copenhagen-based creative director who previously served as the editor-in-chief of Vice Denmark and the chief operating officer of a boutique spirits company. Rather than get involved in the low-margin business of food itself, Demi gives popular chefs a platform that allows them to monetize their influence and culinary acumen. 

Subscribers pay $10 per month for access to a WhatsApp group text with a participating chef, allowing the two parties to interact throughout the day, sharing recipes, asking questions about ingredients and techniques, and exploring niche culinary interests.

Lucas Sin, the chef-owner of five New York restaurants, has used Demi to launch what he calls the Chinese-ish Cooking Club, while pastry chef and writer Natasha Pickowicz has used hers, called Never Ending Salon, to compare recipes, praise each other's creations, and fantasize about dream menus.

Moore had the idea for the platform at the outset of the pandemic, when social-distancing measures forced many restaurants across the world to close their doors, putting millions of food-service workers out of work. Roughly 17% of US restaurants have permanently shut down since the start of the pandemic, according to previous reporting from Insider.

With Demi, cooks and the restaurants they support get a fresh revenue stream that avoids the logistical challenges of pandemic-era dining. They also enjoy the benefits of the creator economy, digitally exchanging their expertise for revenue rather than selling a physical product.

"Chefs have so much passion and knowledge to share and so many super-engaged fans," Moore said. "They just haven't had a good setting to share it in."

Demi's allure

Demi is in direct competition with other creator-economy platforms, such as Substack and Patreon, in its attempt to become the go-to site for chefs looking to monetize their reach and reputation.

Former Bon Appétit stars Molly Baz and Carla Lalli Music have both turned to Patreon following their departures from the magazine, placing recipes and culinary content behind a paywall to generate revenue. Another Bon Appétit emigré, Rachel Karten, recently launched a Substack newsletter, and former NYT Cooking guru Alison Roman has a newsletter on the platform that ranks among the site's most popular food publications.

Demi is much smaller than both Substack and Patreon: the platform has accrued 700 total subscribers since its soft launch in mid 2020, according to documents reviewed by Insider. To combat the larger reach of its competitors, the Demi team is creating an app with features tailor made for chefs, food-lovers, and home cooks, such as an enhanced chat infrastructure and a save feature that will allow users to easily catalogue recipes. Demi plans to release the platform in early April, according to Moore.

The platform also hopes its connections to the culinary world — Sin and Pickowicz were both introduced to Demi through word-of-mouth — will inspire chefs to adopt it as their own. Moore said he has verbal commitments from "hundreds" of chefs including Matt Orlando, Zoe Kanan, Douglas McMaster, and Johnny Drain to use the platform. At the moment, Demi has four chef-partners hosting chats, a number Moore said has been intentionally kept low while the platform irons out kinks and experiments with different engagement features.

The app's native payment processing will allow Demi to take a 15% cut of all transactions, though the startup has not yet taken a percentage of revenue. Despite not yet turning a profit, Demi has caught the eye of investors and chefs alike. The rising platform has gathered $1.5 million in funding from Chris and Crystal Sacca, Human Ventures, Astanor Ventures, and other investors, according to documents reviewed by Insider. 

Food media money

Using Demi, chefs are able to turn their social-media reach and skill sets into revenue, a business strategy that digital creators like podcasters, writers, and teachers have leaned into as the pandemic has throttled in-person activity. Unlike restaurants, whose market is limited by geographical constraints, restaurant workers with significant social media followings can use Demi to monetize their fans regardless of location.

Chefs like Sin, whose 46,500 Instagram followers and eye-catching Recipe Stories have made him an Instagram phenom, can use Demi to generate revenue that is uncapped by the economics of food production. The platform also gives fans of Sin, who might be unable to order from his restaurant, a way to support a chef whose mission they value.

"Some fans are happy to support me in any way they can, because they recognize that everything else that I've put out so far has gotten to them free," Sin said. "And then for other people, they're not paying just for me. They get to hang out with other people who like me and hear from them as well."

Like many creator-economy tools, Demi best serves the already-established, giving those with influence another tool to monetize it. The vast majority of line cooks and pastry chefs have only marginal social followings, meaning Demi will be of little use to them. 

In response to that reality, unlike many creators on traditional platforms, both Sin and Pickowicz have opted to donate a portion of their revenue to charitable causes, a decision they each attribute to the communal ethos of the restaurant world. Sin is donating a portion of his earnings to the National Black Food and Justice Alliance, and Pickowicz plans to donate 25% of her revenue to a non-profit. 

Their drive to donate reflects how the restaurant world is an interconnected tangle of line cooks, purveyors, wait staff, and other critical workers, many of whom have been affected by the pandemic. While celebrity chefs like Sin and Pickowicz attract the spotlight and lucrative opportunities, their donations are an acknowledgement of the larger ecosystem that they rely on for their success. 

Still, even famous chefs sometimes live paycheck to paycheck. Pickowicz, whose job was terminated in July, uses her Demi revenue to stay afloat financially, and its consistency has given her the freedom to take on other endeavors, such as writing a cookbook. While she is happy to share the wealth, Pickowicz sees the platform primarily as an exchange of money for wisdom and access.

"People should get paid for their work and their energy, and Demi gives people access to a New York City fine dining-chef," Pickowicz said. "I think that's something that I deserve to be paid for."

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