Good Eats

A start-up launched by Ben Appenzeller ’10 and Rosemary Ku ’09 is introducing customers to hard-to-find artisan foods — and giving small-batch producers access to the market.
November 19, 2012
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Foodies Ben Appenzeller ’10 and Rosemary Ku ’09 often vet business ideas for fun. But when Appenzeller decided that an idea Ku had during a “slow day in the ICU” had legs — Ku is a medical resident at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in San Francisco — she was surprised. “I had no idea he was going to run with it,” says Ku of her fiancé.

The idea was inspired by the subscription Appenzeller gave Ku to Birchbox, which delivers samples of high-end beauty products to subscribers each month; Ku suggested applying the model to artisan foods.

“Nobody has solved the problem yet of helping people find artisan foods that aren’t available in large retail chains, while helping small-batch food producers find new customers,” says Appenzeller.

Words of Wisdom: Beware of analysis paralysis. “Rather than spending too much time trying to make everything perfect from the start, get the business out there, gather feedback, and refine it along the way,” says Appenzeller.

Enter Petit Amuse. For $10 a month, the company will send you a box of three to four samples of carefully selected, hard-to-find artisan treats. Think shortbread sandwich cookies with dulce de leche in the middle (Latin American cookies called alfajores), spiced almond caramel corn, or organic Spanish olive oil — three of the company’s best-selling products.

Petit Amuse doesn’t make a profit on the boxes; they buy the samples at cost from producers and offer them with no mark-up. “Our goal is to give you the best possible samples so you’ll visit our website to purchase more,” says Appenzeller, who ultimately plans to customize sample selections according to customer preferences.

The treats don’t only taste good — they do good, too. “The story behind the brand is really important to us,” says Ku, the company’s chief tasting officer. “We want the besttasting products from the companies with the most altruistic values.”

Another expression for “amuse-bouche,” “petit amuse” is a French term for distinctive small bites that are served before a meal to invigorate the appetite. “We want to create that same kind of experience with our samples,” says Appenzeller.

If the hundreds of subscribers and rave reviews from fellow foodies within weeks of the company’s July launch are any indication, the strategy is a sweet success.