At a New York baking supplies store recently, I started chatting with a woman who had just launched her own party cakes business.
What I heard was a familiar story. She loved to bake. Friends were wild for her butter pineapple cake. First she sold one, then another. Orders started rolling in for cupcakes and other sweet treats.
Soon, a local church group contacted her, requesting a weekly supply of desserts.
Suddenly, this fledgling food seller was in business.
When asked if she had a website to draw additional customers to her products, she shook her head. "Yeah, everyone says I should have one," she said sheepishly. "I just don't have the time for that right now."
But let's say there was a way for this food entrepreneur to avoid the hassle of setting up her own web presence. BookofCooks, an Etsy-like site that allows budding caterers, personal chefs, bakers and assorted other food sellers to peddle their wares, provides a place for fledgling merchants to set up a storefront with just a few clicks of the mouse.
BookofCooks, which launched in October after two years in beta, is still sparsely populated. You upload a picture of your product, a pitch, and contact information -- and presto, you're in business.
That's what Jacy Cakes of New York, specializing in custom wedding and other special occasion cakes, did. The baker set up a digital shop and promoted it with an arresting come-on: designer shoes made entirely of sugar.
Who's on BookofCooks? Caterers and personal chefs, as well as aspiring bakers and cooks who are eager to sell you their wares.
So far roughly 2,000 storefronts have been erected and several hundred transactions have been logged on BookofCooks, says site co-founder Julian Mellicovsky. For your digital shop, you can chose the free option or one of two paid premium plans which come with some additional features. The aim is to help you sell products to people in your local area.
For purchasers, the proposition isn't entirely clear. Why would I buy, cupcakes from some random baker, when I'm tripping over established cupcakeries everywhere I turn? If I'm in the market for a personal chef -- Wow, that sounds like a lovely idea! -- I'm going to want to get personal references, not just pick someone totally at random off a website.
Still, if you're catering an event or looking for someone to cook dinners for you on a regular basis, the site's meant as a first point of contact for locating nearby talent, says Mellicovsky, who may soon add personal testimonials to lend additional credibility to vendors posting on the site.
You can search by city and type of food. Each storefront provides a description of services offered, contact information and a link to each seller's website for more details on products and prices. Merchants check off whether they are willing to deliver or will cook at your home.
The question is, are customers searching for a Yellow Pages of local food talent? BookofCooks hopes they'll be fine with what right now boils down to little more than a unvetted listing.
This post first appeared on Foodandthings.
Laura Weiss is the author of Ice Cream: A Global History (Reaktion Books, 2011). Follow her on Twitter at @foodandthings and Like her on Facebook at Ice Cream or Food and Things. She blogs at Food and Things.