The COVID-19 pandemic has left countless thousands of restaurant professionals in the US starving for business. With nearly 80,000 restaurants that shut down permanently within a year after the start of the pandemic, millions of food service jobs have been eliminated. Yet despite the damaging effects of the pandemic, professional culinary artisans -- from baristas and bakers to pastry chefs and sous-chefs -- are taking an entrepreneurial approach to keeping their passion for marking food alive and profitable.
As several states update their cottage food laws, making it easier and safer to create kitchen-based services -- from home-based to commercial kitchens -- a group of software developers have recently created Castiron, a new e-commerce platform launched in October that acts as a central hub for independent kitchen-based artisans to sell their products online, connect with customers, grow their businesses and save time and money in order to focus on their culinary creations.
Castiron today announced that it has raised $6 million in seed funding with venture capital firms Bowery Capital, Foundry Group and High Alpha, which will help it to build more tools, products and expand staff. Through its web-based platform, the virtual-operated company, with operations in New York, Ohio, Indiana and California, helps culinary artisans build successful businesses by simplifying their operations with free e-commerce websites, back-office tools, blog posts, as well as providing a community for artisans to reach out to each other and exchange ideas.
"We started this company because we saw these people who are working so hard doing things that they didn't sign up for," Castiron founder and CEO Mark Josephson told ZDNet. "The average artisan spends 75% of their time on things other than making food -- from taking orders, managing orders, tracking down payments, invoicing, planning inventory, building a website and social media marketing -- we're really passionate about helping them," Josephson said.
Through the Castiron platform, artisans can set up a complete website and go live in a matter of minutes, where they can then take orders and transact business with their customers. "We've streamlined it so efficiently," Josephson said. The back-office tools, for example, enable orders to come into one queue so that artisans need not worry about getting direct messages, text messages or e-mails. "You now have a streamlined order queue that captures all of the information needed from the customer, it translates to a definitive customer list, so you know exactly who your customers are, what they've ordered, what their preferences are, and how much they bought from you," Josephson added.
What's more, the platform manages an artisan's inventory, automates invoicing, and provides hundreds of blog posts, news about local rules and laws around home and cottage baking and providing a community of support.
Currently, Castiron is only available in the US, but Josephson says they intend to expand internationally.
"Right now, we only make money when our customers sell something. We're going to build more products that help them sell more," Josephson said. "That's really all we care about is helping them become more successful because when they win, we win."