It was two years ago, on a trip to Guatemala, that Noah Karesh ran across a 12-year-old boy selling avocados. Karesh was looking for an authentic Guatemalan meal. The boy invited Karesh and his girlfriend home for dinner -- and the Washington, D.C., native had an epiphany.
"I love eating in the home," Karesh says. "I wanted to have the opportunity to do that everywhere I go."
The result? Karesh and his business partner, Danny Harris, 33, created Feastly, the latest foodie startup to hit the Bay Area. Its goal is to connect diners to chefs, home cooks and even fellow diners for a meal they can share together.
The concept is simple: Feastly (www.eatfeastly.com) events turn cooks' homes into supper clubs. After planning the menu and determining the number of seats and meal costs, the host posts the event. "Feasters" RSVP and pay online, then bring their appetites to the party.
Since the inaugural Feastly meal in January 2012 -- a Libyan dinner for 25 prepared by Harris' mother in Washington -- more than 100 others have taken place in the homes of Feastly cooks. Most have professional experience; the rest are talented amateurs.
"Feastly touches on all of our passions: food, community and technology," says Karesh, 30. "It's an online marketplace that allows any passionate cook to offer and serve a meal in their home to any hungry eater."
On a recent Sunday evening, Benjamastino Giustino, 27, welcomed a dozen people to his Oakland home for a $22 potpie dinner, one of about six Feastly events held in the Bay Area since Feastly launched here in February.
Giustino cleared out his living room to make space for a 12-foot table adorned with candles in makeshift holders. Giustino knew many in the crowd, a diverse mix of friends and friends of friends who nibbled on pickled carrots and roasted cauliflower, sipping beer they brought with them.
"I really liked the idea that it's something to do other than going to a bar," Giustino says. "You can sit down, have a meal and spend a lot less money than going out, and you actually get to meet people as well."
With no professional cooking experience, Giustino admits the amount of work required to cook for so many people was a little overwhelming. But he made a little coin and views Feastly as a way to raise money for his artistic endeavors, which include art shows and a TV pilot.
Others see Feastly as a blank canvas to express their culinary creativity. Chef and food justice advocate Amanda Yee hosted a Feastly dinner after Oakland's most recent First Friday and Art Murmur, turning her home into a midnight diner where she served carne asada-Benedict fries and duck fat-and-waffle milkshakes (yep, you read that right).
Some Feastly events are not just meals, but food-focused adventures that move well beyond the kitchen table. A host in Washington, for example, brought together feasters for a chocolate truffle-making class just before Valentine's Day, and a New York City-based host took feasters on a trip upstate to forage for the mushrooms that became part of their dinner.
Feastly currently operates in D.C., New York and the Bay Area, but Karesh plans to kick the party up a notch with forays into Austin, Texas; Boston; Boulder, Colo.; Chicago; Los Angeles; Miami; Portland, Ore.; Philadelphia and Seattle -- and abroad. Glance at Feastly's Facebook page, and you will see would-be feasters clamoring for events in Milan and other Italian cities.
Back in Oakland, Yee is planning to make a Feastly dinner a monthly tradition following every First Friday event. She will stick to the late-night diner theme, but the comfort food she plans to serve at the next dinner will get an Asian twist. On the menu: Afro-Asian jung stuffed with smoked plantain, black-eyed peas, peanuts and sticky rice, as well as Persian lamb pho and sheep's milk ricotta pancake fritters with cinnamon-curried powder.
Feastly, Yee says, is "the perfect blend of technology, art and creativity. It is a form of social media, but it gets us off the computer and engaged with people around the table, eating, and in good company."
More Food Adventures
Feastly isn't the only game in town, of course. Some startups, such as Kitchit, which launched in San Francisco in 2011, specifically target chefs, linking party hosts with private chefs who plan and prepare menus for private events. Others match food lovers for social dining experiences. Here's just a sampling. Find more foodie adventures at www.mercurynews.com/food-wine.
BlendAbout: This Bay Area startup matches diners with other diners for group meals at hot restaurants, adding a social dining dimension, which is also at the heart of Feastly. Details: www.blendabout.com.
Chef Surfing: This startup rode into the Bay Area from South America in November to connect chefs with potential clients. More than 1,000 chefs have signed up, but the list includes only a few in the Bay Area. Details: https://chefsurfing.com/en/welcome.
Dishcrawl: Instead of a sit-down dinner at one restaurant, this San Jose-based company takes foodies on a strolling/nibbling tour of four or more in the South Bay, San Francisco and Oakland. Details: www.dishcrawl.com.
Feastly: Find more information about Feastly, including details on how to sign up to dine or host a feast, at www.eatfeastly.com. The next Bay Area Feastly event will be Friday.
Kitchit: Billed as a "bespoke dining experience," Kitchit pairs chefs with people interested in arranging everything from a formal dinner or cocktail party to a cooking class. The site sorts its roster of available chefs by location, including Peninsula, South Bay, East Bay and Marin. Details: www.kitchit.com/bay_area.