The Future of Digital Kitchen Tools with Josh Sharkey of Meez
It’s rare to come across a product that sits in a category of its own. But that is indeed the case with New York-based Meez; a digital recipe tool for chefs, F&B professionals, and kitchens. Meez aims to plug the hole in recipe sharing, enabling increased productivity, planning and creativity. We’ve come a long way from your grandma’s old kitchen notebook.
We sat down with Meez’s founder Josh Sharkey to talk about all things recipes -alongside the promise held in an industry that’s still behind the curve when it comes to tech. The cloud is the limit…
George: Hey Josh, let's start with hearing a bit more about what you do and your personal history?
Josh: Sure. Well, most of my career was as a professional chef, mostly in the fine-dining world. I’ve also owned and operated restaurants for about eight years. For the last 20 plus years, I’ve been cooking, running restaurants, owning restaurants, and really everything in between, as it relates to the restaurant world. In around 2015, I started full-time working on Meez so I’m fully immersed in the restaurant tech world.
G: Can you give us a sense of the size of the Meez team?
J: We have about 18 people on the team. That includes developers, customer success and all that jazz.
G: Can you tell us what Meez is and who it’s for? What are the advantages over say, Evernote, Notion, or Google Docs?
J: Absolutely. Firstly I’ll start by saying Meez is built directly for culinary professionals. It’s a tool that I built for all the things that I wanted as a chef that didn't exist yet in the food world. You know, photographers have Photoshop, architects have AutoCAD and designers have Figma. Now chefs have Meez.
What we're trying to do is create a universal recipe tool and standardise the way in which you can create, share, distribute costs, and analyse your recipes. Up until now, the only sort of tool we've had for recipes in the professional food world has really been relegated to inventory software or financial software. And there's just so much more that we do with recipes so that really frustrated me. And so Meez is intended to solve all the things that we do in the kitchen. Essentially, we're centralising that entire culinary process.
G: On your website, it says that you initially worked with a handpicked selection of chefs and mixologists that had early access to Meez. What kind of criteria did you look for with these partnerships?
J: Number one for me was diversifying the types of food operations we had exposure to as there are so many. There's fine dining, fast-casual, and there's QSR. And then we have retail shops, butchers, R&D companies, catering companies.
We wanted to find a diverse group of users to understand the critical question; where are we adding value? Where are there gaps? And then candidly, I tried to find people that I thought would be really anti-tech, that would probably, you know, just immediately be like, ‘no, I prefer a pen and paper or I prefer Google Sheets or Evernote.’ Those are the ones that we need to sell to the most. That's sort of how I went about finding the beta customers. I was aware that I likely had a cognitive bias on how I have managed my recipes over the years in the restaurants but needed exposure to the other ways in which people manage their content.
G: When a chef becomes more organised with a tool like Meez, what are the upsides?
J: First and foremost, we're removing so much of the manual work that goes into documenting and managing recipes. In large organisations, there are people that are dedicated solely to recipe documentation, and then putting those recipes into all these disparate systems that they'll use, such as an LMS system, a back-office system and on the website. We're removing the need for that and creating a source of truth for your recipes.
Meez also removes a lot of the human capital needed for training. Because of the way you're able to standardise and distribute this content with videos and images for every step, it makes it a lot easier to roll out new items efficiently. We have seen that what used to take us nine months to roll out a menu across all of our locations we're able to do in a couple of days. We've been able to launch brand new virtual concepts within our company with Meez in a matter of weeks because everybody's proficient in using the system. Additionally, we can utilise recipes we already have and create new menu items and concepts very quickly. So certainly we’re removing the need for as much training resources as before.
But a big part of the technology is really around removing all the input so that the chefs can focus on output. The chef or the food professional is responsible for putting in all of the empirical information in a recipe. They have to put in the yield when they peel a carrot, or if they dice an onion, or they use the celery. They have to know how much a cup of dark rye flour weighs. Not to mention all of the allergens or nutritionals! We removed all of that.
Ingredients are just automatically built-in as you create your recipes. You add your ingredients to yield the conversions, and allergens are all just built into the system. So the complete picture of the meal builds itself as you go. We remove all that work so that you can literally just put a recipe in and you'll get the output of the things that you need. And you can just start sharing with your team.
G: Do you have a typical Meez user?
J: You know, we serve so many different types of food businesses; from fine dining to fast-casual, to ghost kitchens. From the largest culinary schools and catering companies, and everything in between. I would say the common denominator of our customer is someone who's cooking food every day. More mechanical types of businesses where everything comes in prefab are not necessarily our customers today.
We add the most value to people who are doing production on a daily basis because of the scaling technology in Meez. When you're making a dynamic amount of food every single day it’s vastly easier when you're using Meez because you can make specifically the amount that you need, and you can make sure your team sees what they need in real-time.
G: Right, what about home cooks?
J: It's certainly in the business model but longer-term. In the short term, we're dabbling with it by enabling our chefs to you know, interact with their audience. The technology translates really well to the home cook; my wife and I use it at home all the time.
I'm a huge believer in focus. We are maniacally focused on making sure that we service culinary professionals today, all the while working on this longer-term plan for helping to serve as home cooks. We can also disrupt the cookbook industry because there are a lot of opportunities there as well.
G: Interesting. What have you learned from working with some of the world's best chefs?
J: Well, you know, I think chefs; especially really great chefs are very detail-oriented. Little details matter a lot as they do to me. A lot of that ethos was applied to how we built the product. We're a customer-first company, and so the product is built based on what everybody is asking for so we're constantly hearing feedback of, you know, little tweaks and making adjustments to how they experience recipes.
Every chef has their way of doing things, and we try to make a product that is flexible; that will work for everyone.
G: What’s it been like working with culinary schools?
J: It's an incredible honour to be able to work with culinary schools, especially, you know, one as great as ICE. For me, it holds a very special place in my heart for a couple of reasons.
As I see it, Meez is the tool that I wish I had when I started my career, and now we're giving this to every student from the minute they start their career in the food world. Now they have a tool to store everything that they've learned and then to interact with it all for life. It's a real blessing for us, and I'm excited that I can give that back to our industry.
G In terms of marketing, what has been effective? I'm guessing word of mouth has been key?
J: We've grown almost 30x in the past year, actually a little bit more than that. The majority of that growth, about 70%, is organic. Word of mouth is crucial; whether it’s chefs recommending it directly or just letting others know, that's the majority of how we're growing right now.
We have done some ads but I think they end up being more for increasing awareness, making sure people know what we're doing. We don't have a sales team, we don't go out and sell to restaurants. We're just focused on servicing the customers we have, and that ends up being the best flywheel of growth for us.
G: And in terms of cities that have the most amount of adoption on Meez, is that around the US or more global?
J: The majority of our customers are in the US and Canada. We have hotspots in New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, Quebec, and Toronto but the majority of our customers are spread out. We're also in about 14 other countries.
G: How has COVID affected things?
J: We initially delayed the launch of Meez because of COVID and we ended up launching this thing called ‘Recipes’ which helped chefs sell their recipes to their audience and raise money. 100% of the proceeds went to the chefs. We finally launched Meez at the end of 2020. The pandemic has been a blessing and a curse; all of my friends and colleagues are in the restaurant business. The majority of them. It's been really tough to see how they've struggled through it. And it's amazing to see how many of them have thrived.
It's been tough. What I will say is that it's been a blessing that many people in the industry have had more time to actually step back, and work on their operation. We've seen a lot of growth because of where businesses have taken their content or their IP and operationalized it with Meez.
I think that there's a deeper appetite for technology now, because of COVID. People realise they need to do more with less. Staffing has been an issue and many need to figure out how to have a tool to help them grow and operate without relying too much on staff. Covid has been a double-edged sword. I have seen a number of restaurants close and it's disheartening to see, because those are all my, you know, my brethren.
G: Can you give us a sense of how many kitchens are currently using these?
J: We have about 7,000 plus users at the moment, across about 707 Kitchens. So a lot of kitchens will have, you know, 10, 20, or 30 cooks in the kitchen. We also have a lot of individuals.
G: Great. Do recipes sync in real-time? How is the information stored?
J: It's all in real-time. It's all cloud-based. As soon as you update something, your entire team is notified, and they'll see the live recipe. You can have 100,000 people scaling the same recipe with different amounts, without ever even changing the base recipe, all at the same time.
G: Can you take recipes offline if needed?
J: Yes, you can view them offline. We are launching a new mobile app, which is going to really optimise offline mode for a number of things. Our recipes are not just readings, there are also videos for steps and images, things like that. So a lot of it is dependent on the internet.
G: Awesome. Yeah, so which devices are people mostly using for this?
J: So it bifurcates between the creators, the editors, and then the viewers. The majority of recipe creation, and editing is happening on the desktop or on laptops. We see quick edits on the fly frequently on the phone. The majority of the viewing of recipes is happening on tablets, phones and on screens in the kitchen.
G: Clearly you're gathering a huge amount of data. I’m curious if you can see any trends on a national scale? Have you seen certain dishes or ingredients peaking at certain points?
J: 100%, we have so much data and there's a lot that we see such as a spike in the usage of certain ingredients, or certain types of recipes. We use these insights more from the vantage of how they can be helpful to our customers, right? How can we create better recipes? We also work with some vendors to help them understand, you know, what ingredients are being used a lot right now, to understand what they should be providing for their chefs.
G: Could you give me any specific examples of the kind of ingredient trends that you've seen maybe during COVID, or since launch?
Well, you have definitely seen a departure from the commodity proteins; chicken, beef, things like that, and a lot more use of offcuts. Chefs are able to get way more value out of it; it's a better price point. I think people steering away from some of the commodity stuff like avocados. It's a volatile market where the price can spike.
G: Is there anything else that you're looking at that looks interesting to you? Anything you can predict that’s going to happen in the next 5 to 10 years?
I think that the food world is at the early stages of the adoption curve of technology. We have a long way to go. Things like robotics and things like that are going to be relegated to much larger organisations.
There's so much opportunity with Meez; around making that recipe experience incredible and all the things that we do with cooking. Of course, there's the introduction of IOT devices where you can do things like linking your scales to your thermometers and your ovens, or how you can communicate with collaborators.
We're thinking about ways in which you can communicate outside of just the standard, you know, commenting and things like that. There's obviously the potential opportunity with the metaverse of ways in which you can collaborate and do R&D. Honestly, for now, we are just myopically focused on how we make our recipe experience incredible. We will be busy for a while!
G: What about the mobile app? How is the development going?
J: It's certainly in the works. There are a couple of ways in which we think about the mobile app. One is accessibility, making things accessible to everyone so you don't have to go to a website to get it. Of course, offline mode is another piece of it.
The third thing we are working on is how we use fingers to control the recipes, which are pretty in-depth things. How do we want to be navigating through it all? A lot of what we're doing is around how do we make that experience really special.
G: What other companies or friends are doing interesting things in the world of food tech?
J: I mentioned this the other day, but I really do love what Blanket are doing; it's sort of like a task management app. They've been really helping restaurants to standardise and measure, you know, tasks that their team is doing. So I think that's a really great one. There are so many pieces of software right now that are helping to improve third party delivery margins; things like that.
Another company that I really love is one called Tattle. They are helping to add some structure with measuring customer feedback in ways that I think is really, really interesting. The algorithm that they've built is really useful in understanding and extrapolating things based on accurate customer feedback that you get.
G: Awesome. Is there anything else you'd like to mention? Anything you want to promote, or anything upcoming with Meez?
What I would say like to say is that Meez doesn't have competitors with what we do. The message that I always want to get out is that there is a better way now to manage your recipes.
You don't have to use domain agnostic tools anymore, like Google Drive, and Evernote. If you are a food professional, and you have recipes, you can really benefit from putting them into Meez.
Lastly, we just partnered with a company called Indie Chefs that I really love. We'll be travelling around the country with them, doing events and working with chefs and things like that. So something really fun to follow along for that as well.
G: Great, what will the events be like with Indie Chefs?
J: They're collaborative dinners with chefs that will be flown in from around the country. A different city each time. Usually, the chef's will find out the details a couple of days before, and they work together on buildings menus. It's just a great place for chefs to commune together, talk, share experiences and cook together. It's something that we at Meez really align with because collaboration is a vital part of our ethos. We sponsor the events and help supply resources and things like that. For me personally, I can bump elbows and let them know that I'm not some tech guy and that I'm a chef as well!
Learn more about Meez here.