The food subscription business is a well-fed market, ask anyone on either coast and much of middle America and they'll say they've at least heard of meal services that deliver the exactly amount of ingredients you need for meals every single week at your door. For many young professionals and busy, over-worked families that are simply stretched too thin to find time to cook a meal and sit together to enjoy it, companies like Blue Apron and Plated have made it simple, seamless and easy. But previous food writer, Debbie Soo, realized what another hole in the meal market: dinner parties.
Though arguably, the appeal of her start-up, Feastive is likely more for New Yorkers who have a bit more time to experiment in the kitchen, the idea is simple: plan your dinner menu online, have the ingredients delivered (based on your party size) and whip it up, all while sippin' on champagne and greeting your guest as they arrive.
With an emphasis on more exotic, international flavors (likely inspired by Soo's upbringing in Asia), Feastive might be the excuse your squad needs to finally put Doodle to good use and find a time when you can all nom.
Here, Soo shares her story, her success and what's next:
1. Have you always loved food? How has it been a part of your life?
Debbie Soo: “I have always been a food lover. My mother is an amazing cook and instilled in us a lifelong appreciation for food (along with very, very healthy appetites). I moved to New York two years ago from Hong Kong, where I worked as a food editor for a local gourmet magazine.
It was an amazing experience, and I spent the better part of four years sampling the culinary highlights of the region. After relocating to the U.S. and setting my sights on the food scene in New York, I found myself missing Asia – not just the food, but the family-style dining and ease of sharing that is so prevalent over there. It made me think about how I could bring people together more often, with food as the vehicle."
2. How did the idea for Feastive come about?
DS: “The idea for Feastive actually came about during the polar vortex of 2014. We were trapped at home during a crazy snowstorm, and I got hit with an intense craving for sukiyaki. I sat there all day thinking about melt-in-your-mouth tender beef, the sweet-savory broth and just how fun and comforting the entire experience is. I would have paid anything for somebody to bring it to me, but no service like that existed!"
3. What inspired you to start the company?
DS: “While I had been in food writing for a good number of years, I was looking for the right opportunity to expand my knowledge and skillset in the industry. I realized that while there were plenty of meal kits in the delivery space that catered to solving the weeknight dinner conundrum, there was nothing that solely focused on special occasions and fun get-togethers.
For me, cooking during the week isn't a problem as I usually just throw together the contents of my fridge and dig in – there's no one there to judge me if my meal isn't 'gourmet.' It's when I add guests into the mix that things get stressful! In the past when I had a traditional 9 to 5, I'd torment myself over what to cook, where to buy ingredients, and especially when to prep everything.
Feastive is a delicious and fun solution for busy New Yorkers who want to entertain more often. By taking the planning, shopping and prep out of the equation, we make it possible (and enjoyable) to host guests for dinner. All of our menus are created based on principles of interaction, togetherness and experience – we emphasize exotic fare because we want to make dinner parties about shared discovery."
4. What's next for Feastive? How's business now?
DS: We are slowly but steadily getting onto people's radar, and now the challenge is convincing people who have heard about Feastive to try it. People often think a dinner party involves a very large number of people, but our meals are made for a minimum group size of four, which could be as easy to coordinate as a double date.
We have also been steadily unveiling new additions to our menu, including a super-fun DIY Dumpling Kit and our exclusive Raclette Party in a box. In the next few months, we hope to roll out a series of menu experiences that will be perfect for warmer weather and getting people outside.
We are also exploring fun partnerships with other start-ups in order to offer more of a well-rounded experience for our customers (think drinks and dessert)."
5. What is your goal from Feastive?
“I hope that we become the go-to service for fun and creative gatherings in New York City. What we are offering might be a niche product, but we want to own this niche – not just in New York, but in other cities as well where busy people are hungry for new experiences."
6. We have to know: what's your favorite thing to cook for a dinner party?
DS: “The Dumpling Kit has made me obsessed with dumplings lately. I can't seem to make enough of them! I cook a lot of Chinese food when I have friends over too, mostly because a lot of them miss it just as much as I do. There's just something so comforting about a home-cooked Chinese meal. Also, (besides Feastive!) anything Ottolenghi is usually a home run on the dinner party front."
7. What have you learned by becoming a female entrepreneur?
DS: “I have never learned so much so fast. I have learned to appreciate and respect just how backbreaking working in a kitchen is. I have learned that there is an amazing network of fellow female entrepreneurs who just want to help you succeed. And ultimately, I've learned first-hand how difficult it is to start a business, but how rewarding it can be."
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.