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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

March 26, 2014 at 4:48 PM

Gathered Table menu planner launching, with Howard Schultz backing

A Seattle startup building a menu planning service for busy families is emerging from stealth mode in the next few days to begin broader testing.

Called Gathered Table, the company was started by former Starbucks executive Mary Egan with backing from her former boss, Howard Schultz, and other angel investors.

Egan left her strategy and corporate development job at Starbucks in 2012. She started the company last summer and now has 16 employees at an office in the Smith Tower. It’s beginning an invitation-only test phase over the next few days — at gatheredtable.com — and plans to be publicly available in May.

Screenshot provided by Gathered Table.

Screenshot provided by Gathered Table.

The company plans to charge $10 to $12.50 per month for its service, which helps people plan weekly meals, find recipes and prepare shopping lists. It assumes users can follow the recipes, though it may add cooking tutorials in the future. It plans to integrate with grocery delivery services reaching the top 25 metro areas in the country this fall.

“What our product does is try to take the work off people’s plates … the only job left for them to do is the cooking,” said Egan.

The company has applied for patents on its technology, which suggests recipes and gets “smarter” about users as it learns more about their interests and cooking habits.

Gathered Table grew out of Egan’s search for a better way to plan meals for her family. The working mother of three used to spend an hour or more on weekends planning menus and preparing shopping lists for the upcoming week, using a three-ring notebook filled with photocopied recipes.

The service basically automates that process. Users set up the system via a browser by providing information such as how many meals they’d like to cook per week, what they like to cook and dietary restrictions. This is done through an interface that resembles a chalkboard with oven mitt-shaped buttons to navigate forward and backward.

Gathered Table provides users with menu suggestions and recipes that it collects from various sources. Users may also look at each other’s recipe libraries for inspiration.

Based on census data and beta testing last fall in Seattle, Chicago and New York, the service has potentially huge market, Egan thinks — up to perhaps 15 million households. She said the company may double its staff over the next year, after the launch.

Yet the company is entering a competitive space with all sorts of established cooking, menu and food services and apps, including a cluster of online recipe ventures based in Seattle. Egan is undaunted, saying they are complementary and her company is trying to solve a particular problem people have planning menus.

Gathered Table may receive commissions from grocery sales made through the site, but it doesn’t plan to sell advertising or get sponsorships from food manufacturers. Instead it’s counting on subscriptions to provide most of its revenue.

“We feel like the pricing is not going to be a barrier,” Egan said.

Egan said the team is particularly excited about the opportunity for technology to bring people together – at the table – rather than pull them apart. She’s hoping that a year from now, “we have a community of people who feel like this has really changed their lives for the better.”

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