Lee Wallach, the founder of a growing personalized meal delivery service called Home Appétit, is sending thousands of meals each week from Home Appétit’s Wynnefield Heights kitchen to Greater Philadelphia.
Home Appétit’s delivery team is delivering Wallach’s original creations as well as extras from Philadelphia eateries like baology, Vanilya Bakery and High Street Philly. As the service grows, Wallach is thinking about moving to a larger commercial kitchen, less than a year after he moved to his current space.
It works like this: Each Thursday night, Home Appétit’s menu goes live online, and remains live until Saturday night. After indicating how many people are going to need serving, customers select from a wide variety of “Greens & Grains,” “Entrées” and “Add-Ons,” the only category with additional cost. Then, customers schedule a delivery for sometime on Monday evening, and over the weekend, Wallach and his team cook and box those thousands of meals at the Methodist Services Main Campus near Saint Joseph’s University.
On Monday, drivers with some knowledge about the food they’re delivering — a key selling point of Home Appétit, to Wallach’s mind — are dispatched. Everything arrives prepared and ready to eat, in fully recyclable delivery materials.
Wallach, 34 and a father of two, has cooked professionally for years, and running some version of Home Appétit in Philadelphia since 2013. When the pandemic began, he said, he and his team realized that the infrastructure and the existing customer base meant that they were going to be just fine.
“We realized early that we were well positioned to be successful,” Wallach said.
Local food industry experts say ventures like Wallach’s reflect a trend that predates quarantine but has grown exponentially because of it: ghost kitchens, an arrangement where food is available for delivery from services without a storefront.
Ceridwyn King, a professor in the School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management at Temple University, explained that there are two types of ghost kitchens. There are restaurants forced to abandon all in-person dining during the pandemic, and services like Wallach’s. The former were forced to get rid of front-of-house operations, while the latter never had to worry about them.
“It’s an appealing business model,” King said.
Ben Fileccia, director of operations and strategy (Philadelphia region) for the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association, said that part of the reason that services like Wallach’s have succeeded during the pandemic is new consumer attitudes toward ordering in.
“A lot of people that weren’t comfortable or conditioned to order takeout and food delivery prior to March 16, 2020 have now been conditioned to it,” he said.
Over the years, Wallach, who moved around the country as a child, has done the same with his talents as a chef. He’s worked in kitchens from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Bethany Beach, Delaware to Miami, and cooked in New York City and Napa Valley. In 2013, he moved to Philadelphia with his family, where he started cooking for diners in the city and the surrounding suburbs.
Wallach tries to bring the influences of those varied locales to his work, but they all compete with one special cuisine: the Middle Eastern and Israeli food of his childhood.
“There are almost always Middle Eastern influences on those menus,” Wallach said. “I love that flavor profile, I love that style of cooking, I love the flexibility of it, the different nuances between different countries and regions and cultures within each country.”
Wallach spoke Hebrew with his Israeli mother growing up, and they frequently traveled to Israel.
After graduating from George Washington University in 2008, Wallach spent the next six years working for various eateries. After he moved back into Philadelphia, Wallach was looking for a little more flexibility, and found it as a personal chef. The family he cooked for quickly spread the word of his talents, and Wallach suddenly found himself with a growing list of personal clients alongside a burgeoning meal delivery service run out of his home kitchen, named by his wife, Susan Wallach: Home Appétit.
It wasn’t until about two years ago that the delivery service began to overtake the personal chef business, sending Wallach and his growing team from kitchen to kitchen as their client list ballooned.
He’s not sure what the future will look like for Home Appétit, nor what he wants it to look like.
“There’s still a lot of opportunity,” Wallach said.
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