You may know David Hauslaib's name in connection with one of his many new-media ventures—he launched Queerty and Jossip among others.
But his latest business is one all you foodies should make it your business to know about—Pop-Up Pantry is a way for you to order meals prepped under the direction of some of the best chefs in the country, and have them delivered right to your home. All you have to do is follow simple instructions and you'll have a gourmet meal in (usually) under 30 minutes.
I got the scoop (the food-pun possibilities are endless) straight from Hauslaib just before we dove over the fiscal cliff into 2013, and I have taken care to litter this post with food porn.
***At the end of this Q&A, look for a special discount offer***
Boy Culture: Who is your partner in the Pop-Up Pantry venture, and how did you find each other?
David Hauslaib: My co-founder is my friend Tom Balamaci. We've known each other socially for years—we met in Las Vegas at a friend's 30th birthday bash—and became better friends when I moved to Los Angeles. (Like me, he is from Connecticut and lived in New York City before moving to L.A., but we didn’t know each other then.) He's a MySpace and Sony Pictures veteran and graduated from Wharton Business School, so while I bring a start-up background and experience building teams from scratch, Tom knows how to navigate financial and corporate worlds. We have skill sets that compliment each other, and while we agree 98% of the time, that 2% is where we really have breakthroughs and innovation. (And yes, he's gay too—and married to his wonderful husband Patrick. They’re among the few legally married couples of California!)
BC: Where did the original idea come from?
DH: The idea was born out of our own frustration with food e-commerce. We saw high-end specialty sites that were great for gifts, but didn't featuring anything we wanted to buy for ourselves. There were middleman services that connected delivery joints to customers, but those don't do much when you're 45 minutes outside a major city. We wanted to create a branded food experience that was straightforward, easy to order from, featured simple-to-prepare food, served a national audience, elevated the conversation around cuisine and, most of all, served delicious food that we would want to eat.
BC: How do you think your new media background will be an asset in this venture?
DH: I think I'm pretty good at building brands from nothing that audiences get hooked on. And most importantly, I genuinely love doing it. I spent more than seven years creating and building a web publishing firm that was hatched in my college dorm room, and ended up running four blogs that reached over five million people every month and generated seven-figure annual revenues. And my entire marketing, advertising and PR budget for that entire time was $0. I'm pretty good at creating online brands from scratch and finding ways for people to keep coming back to them. Of course, I didn’t do it all myself—I had an amazing team working with me, and it helps to know other people in your space who will cover and link to you—but it’s rewarding to introduce, curate and execute on a brand that started on a napkin.
BC: Do you have a history as a food lover?
DH: I have a history of eating! Yes, I love food. I love dining out at new spots, discovering new flavors, booking international trips around restaurant reservations and always trying new dishes from up-and-coming chefs. But it's the worst-kept secret at the company that I don't know how to cook—which is why I'm the Pop-Up Pantry guinea pig. If I can make our food and it turns out great, anybody in this country can. And while I love eating, I love cocktails just as much.
BC: What are your favorite kinds of foods?
DH: Thai and Mexican are my favorite cuisines, so I love when our chefs introduce menus with those flavors. Our own Hoisin Ginger Braised Shortribs is one of my favorite dishes from anywhere right now (I've had it probably nine or 10 times already), though I'm also regularly salivating over the pork belly at Michael Voltaggio's ink in Los Angeles, and the gorgonzola dolce pizza at Pizzeria Mozza is unreal.
BC: What are some things that bug you about a dining experience that can't affect someone's Pop-Up Pantry experience?
DH: Restaurant reservations that you can't score. Valet parking. Traffic. Grocery shopping. Tax and tip. Not knowing everything that goes into your dish. Paying a lot of money for something that's only mediocre. Don't get me wrong! I love eating out, and survive a few nights of the month on delivery and takeout, but why I continue eating Pop-Up Pantry is because the dishes are terrific and inspired, there is terrific value for the price, I can eat by myself or entertain an entire group of friends and family, and I never have to ask myself, "What's for dinner?" because there's always a couple of Pop-Up Pantry menus in my freezer that require under 30 minutes of idiot-proof prep.
BC: Who are some of the chefs involved and how did you find them?
DH: Our culinary team is led by Chef David Yeo, who's been in the kitchen at Le Cirque and under the direction of Joel Robuchon at Jamin in Paris and Alain Ducasse at Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo. Chef David creates many of our in-house recipes, and since we also team with chef partners, he oversees the execution of their menus. These days we’re thrilled to be working with Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Dr. Brent Ridge (better known as the Fabulous Beekman Boys, and the new winners of The Amazing Race) and David Burtka and Molly Hanisee (David, of course, is the Mario Batali-trained partner of Neil Patrick Harris, a Pop-Up Pantry investor). As you can tell, there are plenty of gays around our table.
BC: Are there any areas in the country that can't use this service?
DH: We ship to 48 states nationwide, and we're working to expand to Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Right now we have huge customer bases on the coasts, but it's the middle of the country outside urban areas—where so many food-savvy Americans live but often don't have access to high-end cuisine—that we're finding great traction. Just because you live outside New York or L.A. doesn't mean you shouldn't have access to delicious, elevated cuisine.
BC: Does every meal really only take about 30 minutes to put together?
DH: All of our regular dinners take 30 minutes or less to prepare, though our special offerings take a little more time because there's more food to feed more people, including our MasterChef Winning Dinners menu and our Game Day Feast For 8. And whether you went to culinary school or only know how to boil water or bake a frozen pizza, the instructions are simple enough that anyone can plate Pop-Up Pantry dinners. Even better, we include everything you need in the box: the starter, entree with sides, and dessert. Though (for now), you’ll need to bring your own wine.
BC: What's your advice to others looking to start up new businesses about how to find the right people to work with, how to successfully prepare, how to find the money necessary—any start-up advice?
DH: I realized only recently that I have never started a new venture thinking it could fail—that it was even a possibility for the business to crumble. Because why would I waste my time on a project that might fall apart? I wouldn't. And having that mentality is a huge part of entrepreneurship. Of course folks starting their own businesses should never fear failure, and we're all going to fail in some aspects of the business, but every failure is a learning experience. Just fail fast and move on from there. I also encounter so many people with entrepreneurial spirit who are not yet entrepreneurs—because to be an entrepreneur you have to be doing something, not just have an idea or a PowerPoint slide. So many smart minds spend too much time thinking everything through, and trying to plan how to get their business from A to Z before actually releasing a product. But that's (usually) a stupid way of doing things because no business is going to end up operating exactly as you thought it would on Day One. Figure out how to get from A to B first. And most of all, just get it out there! Iterate on your idea, product, or service as feedback and usage data comes in, but you can't get any of that if you're still just scribbling down notes on a pad. That, and be prepared to sacrifice everything for your business. Nights and weekends are a good place to start, but to run a successful, scalable business, it needs to be your full-time job, and you must be willing to lose everything to see it succeed.
If you're interested in giving Pop-Up Pantry a try—I'm sampling it this year as a lovely gift I received from the Fabulous Towleroad Boys—use the code BOYCULTURE for $20 off your first order.