No cooks in the kitchen

CookExpress looks for funding after its gourmet meal-delivery service grinds to a halt.

Published January 10, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Darby Williams has one New Year's resolution: to get funding as soon as possible. His company, CookExpress, which offered Web users "the return of the home-cooked meal," closed up shop right before Christmas.

"We have very little cash in the bank," said Williams, CookExpress's CEO. The San Francisco company burned through $3.5 million of private financing in the last two years, establishing a nationwide dinner delivery service, serving the fixings for pre-fab gourmet meals like lamb chops with Madeira sauce.

With the help of famous chefs like Bradley Ogden (of One Market in San Francisco), CookExpress adapted over 100 time-consuming recipes to create easy-to-use meal kits. Customers could place an order on the CookExpress Web site by 2 p.m., and before dinner time you could expect a package of pre-prepped ingredients. More than a step up from takeout, the kits offered meals such as pan-seared scallops, wild mushroom lasagna and butternut squash stew. (The only drawback was environmental: Every order involved lots of plastic bags and cardboard boxes.)

To prepare and deliver fresh ingredients is a pricey proposition. CookExpress needs at least 10,000 customers to break even; by December it had 5,000 in the Bay Area plus 2,000 people who live outside its same-day service area, but signed up for overnight delivery.

With luck, Williams will be able to get the $5 million to $10 million he needs before the pots and pans in the company's kitchen gather any dust. He has been meeting with investors all this week, and hopes to reopen within the month. Hungry customers are waiting: Williams says he has received many e-mails to the tune of, "Hey, are you guys looking for funding? Can I help?"

By Lydia Lee

Lydia Lee is a San Francisco writer


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