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Tifyn delivers more than dinner
Hoan Huynh's local startup connects international home cooks with hungry diners
Named as a play on tiffin, a word used in India to refer to all manner of packed lunches, Tifyn doesn’t rely on restaurants to cook its meals. Yet the app undoubtedly fits within the vast and booming food delivery space. According to venture capital database CB Insights, almost $1 billion was invested in North American “food tech” startups in each of the past two years, with major chunks of that sum going to an array of high profile names like GrubHub and DoorDash, plus more cooking-oriented delivery models like Blue Apron and Plated. CB Insights notes, though, that “competitive does not mean saturated” for this market, since online/mobile delivery is such a tiny fraction of the overall food market. They suggest the “transition to online/mobile in the coming years will create a wealth of opportunities for entrepreneurs.”
Typical of entrepreneurial endeavors, Tifyn started off with a simple idea — connecting college students from immigrant backgrounds to their home cuisines. Huynh himself comes from a family of Vietnamese refugees and saw firsthand when he went to college at Yale that restaurants had a hard time replicating the tastes of home or providing the type of personal connection he craved. With Tifyn, Huynh and fellow co-founders Sajid Dalvi, Faiz Fatteh, and Saher Fatteh hoped to recruit a fleet of home cooks to help students find tastes similar to those found in their own families’ kitchens.
No value assignedAs the startup moved from idea to execution, the team quickly realized it would need to expand upon its initial scope to create a meaningful business. They would require a wider range of diners (students may be hungry, but they are relatively small in number and often rely on campus dining options), not to mention a larger array of cooks interested in building small businesses out of their homes.
Since March, Huynh and his team have recruited over 30 Atlanta-area chefs to take part in their platform. If you’re searching the Tifyn app, depending on your location, you may find food made by immigrant cooks from Vietnam and India, soul food cooked by a lifelong Atlantan, Cajun-inspired cuisine, or homemade barbecue ribs. Tifyn is now delivering about 80 meals a week, including food served by their various chefs at pop-ups in Tifyn’s home base workspace, Strongbox West, or at Midtown’s TechSquare Labs. Huynh’s goal is to hit at least 100 meals weekly by the end of the year, but then to ramp up and expand beyond Atlanta, reaching 10 cities and 360,000 dishes sold in 2017. It’s a lofty goal given Tifyn’s tiny current footprint, but Huynh is hopeful that the platform they are building — with the right investment and growth plan — can attract enough cooks and diners to make it happen.
Chef Shreena Patel is one of the Atlanta-based cooks currently fueling the “supply side” of Tifyn’s platform. Raised in Mumbai, Patel moved to Atlanta three years ago. Growing up, she says her parents didn’t see cooking as a career goal. “They wanted me to be a doctor or an engineer, like typical Indian parents, but my heart was into cooking,” she tells me. So Patel followed her passion and went on to graduate from a culinary college in Mumbai. Now, she uses her knowledge of Indian cuisine and Mumbai’s famous street food to fuel her Tifyn offerings, like Bombay-style pav bhaji with biryani or vegan chole masala. “I have planned on becoming a chef since I was 11," she says, "and I love Tifyn’s mission of helping people like me build a food business and share culture with others.”
No value assignedAs for Huynh, he spends his days juggling tasks that will help grow the current business and entice investors to support longer-term growth. Being in Atlanta has been a key ingredient in Tifyn’s initial recipe for success. “It’s such a diverse city that finding great chefs has been easy,” Huynh says. “Plus, with the growing startup scene here, we saw it as a place to scale from, to expand to other cities.” The startup has sought out relationships with other organizations that support the local food community, like Food Well Alliance, formed in partnership with Atlanta Community Food Bank.
A closer look at Tifyn reveals that food is merely the currency holding everything together. The company doesn’t employ drivers or hire any cars. Every order sparks the chef and diner to coordinate plans on whether the meal will be picked up or personally delivered within a five-mile radius by the chefs themselves. Huynh and his teammates emphasize over and over the economic empowerment and community-building aspects of the platform, especially for immigrant communities. “Look at Clarkston,” he says. “There are Somalis, Burmese, Cambodians — and the best food in Clarkston is in these refugee kitchens. One of your best skill sets as an immigrant, especially when you don’t know English, is cooking the food of your culture.”
The idea that Tifyn can fuel one neighbor supporting another, both within and across different cultural backgrounds, makes Huynh break into a big grin. “We want to create that within the community,” he tells me. “Helping micro-entrepreneurs get off the ground, helping them get the training or certifications they need … but also helping people try food they wouldn’t get otherwise. And this can even help solve food desert problems and create meaningful human interactions. Instead of the supply coming from the outside, it could come from within the community.”
Ultimately, Huynh envisions Tifyn as a way to bring people together. “We don’t want to be in the delivery business,” he says. “It’s a connection platform. And our success depends on the success of our chefs. The stories we want to tell aren’t our stories so much as the stories of the immigrants, the refugees, the stay-at-home moms, the culinary students. We are selling their stories, their food, and letting neighbors know it’s there to create a more inclusive community. We hope to find a way to let people know that Filipino mom down the street who makes amazing lumpia, or that Korean mom who makes amazing barbecue… That’s our mission.”
<a href="http://www.clatl.com/food-drink/article/20838122/meet-atlantas-food-centric-startups" style="font-family: " open="" sans",="" "helvetica="" neue",="" helvetica,="" arial,="" sans-serif;="" font-size:="" 26px;="" background-color:="" rgb(255,="" 255,="" 255);"="">Related: Meet Atlanta's food-centric startups