When Caviar, the two-year-old takeout delivery startup for restaurants, got $13 million in Series A funding earlier this month on top of the $2 million in seed money it had already raised, it served as a reaffirmation for cookbook publisher Harvard Common Press. Several years ago, the press began leveraging its publishing program and investing in food/technology startups like Caviar; Yummly, a recipe search engine; and Crowdly, a social media monitoring engine for large brands. Then in September, HCP launched a different type of investment and turned its office space in Boston’s South End into the Food Loft, the first co-working space dedicated to food startups, including Caviar, which will use the space for its June launch in Boston.
“We’re extremely pleased about the funding news from Caviar,” said HCP president Bruce Shaw. “Not only does it provide significant runway for future milestone achievement, but it also proves out our thesis around investments we’ve made, namely that the food space is undergoing enormous change, brought on by digital technology, which will have huge benefits for consumers, businesses, and service providers.”
HCP associate publisher Adam Salomone agrees. He compares putting money into food startups to investing in cookbook authors like Cheryl and Bill Jamison, who just published a 20th anniversary edition of their bestselling Smoke & Spice, or relative newcomer, blogger Jessica Fisher. The press has seen sales grow for Fisher’s Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook (2012), which sold 2,000 e-books in February. Last month HCP published her Best 100 Juices for Kids, which it will follow with Good Cheap Eats this fall. “We bring the same thesis to our investments as our books. We take a long view by allocating resources with the end view in mind,” said Salomone.
“As publishers,” Shaw added, “we’ve learned how to curate content. To some extent we ask, Are we going to publish this book, this book, or this book, or all of them? It’s the same decision-making process.” It also involves similar homework, he noted, checking out the competition.
HCP has freed up money for investment by cutting back on its list. Since spring 2011, when it moved its distribution closer to home and signed with Boston-based Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, HCP has cut its list from a high of 18 books a season to between six and eight a year. Slimming its cookbook line has also given Shaw and Salomone more time to meet with food entrepreneurs, about 200 since its initial 2010 investment in Yummly, which it has invested in three times.
But the press has no desire to stop publishing completely. “I’ve been publishing books for 40 years,” said Shaw, who began his career at David R. Godine, Publisher. In addition, noted Shaw, “HCP allows us to walk in the door [of entrepreneurs]. To give that piece up doesn’t make a lot of sense. We continue to publish successfully.” Part of that success is not only due to its cookbooks, but also to parenting titles like Kathleen Huggins’s The Nursing Mother’s Companion, which has sold more than one million copies.
“Synergy” and “cross-pollination” are two other terms that come up when Shaw and Salomone describe how cookbook publishing fits into HCP’s other activities, and not just because of its access to writers and recipes. “We firmly believe,” said Salomone, “it’s our understanding of the food space more broadly—not just our knowledge of content, but of marketing and our PR connections—that we contribute.”
The Food Loft was created to make use of that synergy, which is why Salomone and Shaw chose not to create a general co-working space like a number of office alternatives in Boston. The space can accommodate 16 companies. At present the Food Loft hosts eight, including Bakepedia, created by baking expert and HCP author Dede Wilson; Bonnie’s Jams, one of Oprah’s Favorite Things in 2013; and Nosh On It, a once-a-day e-mail newsletter with recipes from bloggers. HCP has an informal marketing arrangement with the latter, and is sharing marketing tips with another co-working company, Chef’d Up, an online platform that connects consumers with chefs for intimate dinners and personalized cooking classes. Chef’d Up will launch in Boston early next month.
Although HCP wants both to help and learn from the companies under its roof, Shaw is not necessarily interested in investing in all of them financially. “We make a point of telling people, Don’t move in here because you want us to make an investment,” he said. The press prefers to help each of the startups at the Food Loft connect with the food community as a whole, and it hired Lauren Abda as managing director of the space. That can mean helping plan events or reaching out to other food groups at conferences like the Edible Institute, held earlier this month at the New School in New York City.
For now, HCP has no plans to replicate the Food Loft at its offices in San Francisco. But Abda plans to do more food and tech-related events both at the Food Loft and at other venues throughout the Boston area.