Delivering locally sourced ingredients for efficient cooking


Scratch DC works with distributors to provide customers with locally-sourced ingredients, already chopped, measured and marinated. (bigstock)

At first glance, Ryan Hansan’s Washington-based food business might seem like any other take-out restaurant where customers look up the day’s menu, order the food and expect a meal to be delivered to their home shortly thereafter.

But there’s one major difference — Scratch DC, Hansan’s weeks-old entrepreneurial venture, only delivers bundles of raw ingredients. It’s up to the customer to cook the meal, based on a recipe included in the bundle.

Scratch DC encourages even the most disastrous chefs to embrace home cooking by doing all the leg-work — looking up recipes, buying locally sourced fresh vegetables and meats, measuring and chopping the ingredients and marinating them according to the recipe. All that’s required from the customer is cooking time — usually 20 to 30 minutes — and ovens or stoves, pots or pans and utensils.

“Our market is anyone from the experienced cook who doesn’t want to go out, to the boyfriend, right out of college, trying to impress his girlfriend on a night in,” Hansan said.

Scratch DC features seemingly elaborate recipes like “Herbed Pork Medallions and a Creamy Tomato Parmesan Orzo” (for $26) or “Baked Fried Chicken with Scratch Mac’n Cheese and Broccoli” (for $22), but includes detailed step-by-step instructions for preparation — and each bundle serves two people. Hansan posts one dish a day on Scratch DC’s site from Monday through Thursday, and customers can only receive the ingredients on the day of that particular recipe.

Every morning, Hansan and his prep cook (his only employee), chop, marinate, measure and bundle the ingredients for that day’s recipe. Hansan makes sure to include a hand-written thank you note in each bundle, and then personally delivers them between 3 and 10 p.m., Monday through Thursday, to residences in most of Northwest and Capitol Hill.

Hansan recalls his undergraduate years at American University, during which, like many college students, he only cooked occasionally. His fridge was only regularly stocked with “beer and a half-eaten jar of pasta sauce,” he said. If he ate out on a given night, he’d spend too much money — but if he decided to cook a special meal, he’d often have to buy more ingredients than he could use at once and the rest would go to waste.

“There was a lot of wasted food and money. There had to be another way to do that. That was the gen­esis of this idea,” Hansan said.

But while customers simply looking for quick single meals can buy frozen food from their grocery stores, Scratch DC emphasizes fresh and local ingredients, partnering with several local distributors like Baltimore’s Fells Point Wholesale Meats and Lancaster, Pa.’s Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative. Each meal’s recipe lists where each ingredient came from.

To minimize waste, Hansan only orders ingredients based on estimated customer demand, instead of ordering meat and vegetables in bulk and hoping to use it. But this poses a challenge for his farm suppliers, who often have high order minimums for produce. Hansan has been negotiating with distributors to allow him to make small orders, but sometimes has to supplement bundles by buying a handful of ingredients — like spices — from Whole Foods. He hopes, as demand for Scratch DC meals grows, he’ll soon be able to make the distributor’s high order minimums.

However, Hansan noted that Scratch DC is a relatively low-cost operation. As of now, Hansan does the ingredient buying and delivery himself (customers can choose to add a delivery tip to their bill), and only has one employee. Scratch DC operates out of one kitchen for very low rent — while the venture is mostly self-funded and hasn’t made an overall profit in its first weeks, Scratch DC has made a profit on every meal it has sold.

While he waits for his infant business to gain more traction, Hansan has been putting together a big database of recipes that he feels “confident that if anyone cooks them, they’ll be amazing. Even the most novice chefs and the barest of kitchens,” he said.

But he’s optimistic about his company’s growth. “Each day, we’re upping production and selling out. It’s such a new concept that people need to get their head around it and see a lot of feedback, through Facebook posts and Yelp reviews,” he said.

Mohana Ravindranath covers IT and small business for the Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication.
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