After our three previous super-engaging dinner conversations (see the Quantified Self review), we kicked off our fourth The Fetch Melbourne Dinner on Tuesday 2 July with a topic that was sure to stir up conversation, considering how much Melburnians love dining out, quality coffee and laneway bars – food startups – with our guest speaker, Liisa Vurma, co-founder of the social networking foodie community, Eat With Me.

Enjoying great conversation on food starups at Trunk!
Enjoying great conversation on food starups at Trunk!

On a windy Melbourne night, 11 Fetchers came together to discuss the power of food, share food experiences, debate ethical vs convenience, and ultimately decide – why Melbourne is perfectly placed to become the food startup capital of the globe (And the answer: It’s YES!). In addition to our guest speaker Liisa, by chance we were spoiled to have several other food startup founders also in attendance – Athan Didaskalou of Three Thousand Thieves and Jack Barker & Xavier Verhoeven of Where The Truck At.

Comparing stories and experiences between the three startups naturally added to the experience and conversation!

We usually invite an attendee to share their thoughts on the Dinner, so it was great that Xavier was keen to do so … here’s his review:

I’m an introvert. And having spent a long five or so years pursuing a degree in psychology, I’m probably even more aware of that fact than most other introverts.

Like lots of other introverts, I played with computers and the internet when I was younger, which led me down the path of being interested in startups, and eventually co-founding my own, For the bulk of you who have no idea what that is, we have a website and iPhone app that map out the amazing food trucks around Melbourne and Australia.

But all this is to explain that when The Fetch announced an intimate dinner to discuss food startups, I was immediately equal parts eager and hesitant.

Eager to go and potentially learn from a bunch of other awesome entrepreneurs and fellow digital guys (figuring that most Fetch subscribers are probably digital focused) working on or interested in the world of startups relating to food. But hesitant to get out of my comfort zone and meet a bunch of new people.

So I did what any self-respecting introvert would do in that situation – I got a mate (and co-founder) to book the tickets for us. And I’m really glad I did.

The twelve people that made up our small party in a private room at Trunk certainly didn’t disappoint in terms of conversation. As is obligatory at an event where most people don’t know each other, we did an introduction round robin, with about 50% of the table founders of current startups – a pretty great start.

With the formalities done got to defining what makes a ‘food startup’. The short story is that we couldn’t easily define why, or even a food truck might count as ‘food startups’, or why most restaurants aren’t considered startups.

The longer version involved thoughts around innovation, disruption, and following a slightly less trodden business model path. Perhaps to quote The Castle, “it’s just… the vibe”.

And just like the plethora of restaurants that seem to pop up in Melbourne every other week, there doesn’t appear to be a shortage of startups from the Melbourne foodie community.

After all, everyone has to eat.

I was particularly interested to hear from Eat With’s founder Liisa Vurma, after signing up on her site around a year ago, but never getting involved with an event because, well, I’m an introvert. Eat With Me events are actually similar to The Fetch dinner, with the aim of bringing friends and strangers together to share meals, often around a guiding theme. It sounds like a great community, and I definitely want to get along to an event soon (with a friend, of course).

We didn’t talk about Eat With Me as much as I initially thought we would, but then with a conversation as diverse as local councils’ issues with food trucks, sourcing ethical and sustainable produce, how convenience and quality can are often at odds in our decisions, and the absolute genius that is avocado subscriptions (of varying ripeness to ensure optimally ripe avocado every day of the week), there was a lot of great conversation to get through.

In the end, though, there was one thing we all agreed on: when it comes to food, Melbourne is spoilt for choice – we have incredible food, amazing coffee, and enormous variety.

And there are a bunch of smart Melbournians working on innovative ways to make that choice even greater through the next breed of food startups, and maybe even share a bit of the Melbourne food culture with those who don’t have it so good. It’s great to be involved in one little piece of the pie, and it’ll be great to see how these food startups evolve.

About our contributor // Xavier is co-founder of  Where The Truck At and self-proclaimed peddler of beers and marketing dude at Temple BrewingYou can also follow him on Twitter @xavierverhoeven.