NEW YORK CITY — EatWith, the popular website that allows amateur and professional chefs to invite strangers into their homes for dinner parties and cooking lessons, is set to arrive in New York at the beginning of August.
Launched last year in Israel and popular among travelers in Europe, EatWith is sort of an Airbnb for dinner parties. Foodies can post a meal, date, time and price on the site, and interested guests can sign up, pay the fee and chow down. Along with meals, the site also lets hosts offer classes on how to make — and eat — specialty food like challah.
But the site's business model may not be legal within the five boroughs, according to the Department of Health. A spokeswoman with the Health Department said people who offer meals to the public for money are considered food-service establishments — and need all the proper permits and inspections.
"The city does not allow meals to be served to members of the public in someone’s home," the agency said in a statement.
"However, caterers with valid Health Department permits are allowed to bring meals to someone’s home from their permitted establishments."
Naama Shefi, a spokeswoman for EatWith, said it has several built-in safeguards to prevent bad experiences, including a rating system. Staff at the company also visit hosts and try out the meals to verify that they're serving what they advertise on the site.
"We make sure everything's under control, that the space looks nice — just so we know everything is safe," she said.
Like Airbnb, the site also offers insurance to both hosts and guests in case something goes wrong. In EatWith's case, the insurance covers up to $1 million in damages.
"Still, we understand New York City is a whole new ballgame and we’re working to adjust the platform to its legal reality," Shefi added.
"The safety and enjoyment of all EatWith guests and hosts is a top priority for us"
The goal, the company says, is to give people the opportunity to try foods they may not find in in the city's big restaurants — and also have a unique experience in someone else's home.
The meals can range from $25 for something made by amateur cooks to $100 for dinners made by professional chefs who want to host meals outside of their restaurants. EatWith takes about 15 percent of the fee, Shefi said.
For Glori Linares, 33, EatWith was a way to share Puerto Rican food with strangers who quickly became new friends.
"I’m from Puerto Rico — I think it’s nice that I can introduce what Puerto Rican food means to people," she said.
"Here you see a lot of Dominican restaurants, but not too many Puerto Rican restaurants. I’m trying to put it out there a little bit more."
Linares has already hosted two Puerto Rican feasts from her Prospect Heights apartment: one for a group of European tourists, another for EatWith staff, who paid $40 per person for the experience.
The company will officially launch its New York operations in August, with 15 verified hosts in the city. According to Shefi, about 100 more people have already reached out about becoming hosts and should be up on the site once they can be verified.
Linares is planning an Aug. 5 brunch to coincide with the site's launch, during which she'll serve tortillas with fried eggs, sweet potato pancakes and more.
Linares said that after buying ingredients, she's not making much money from her meals.
"For me, more than anything, it's the experience," she said. "It's really about meeting the people and feeding them."