In two weeks, strangers and friends alike will be able to come together for home-cooked meals through the social dining app Homecooked, co-led by two Yale students.

According to co-founder Kevin Zhen ’20, Homecooked is a social dining platform that allows you to book meals made by people in the community. All of the events, usually in groups of six to eight, take place in the cook’s home for roughly $15 to $20 per person. The app, which just underwent extensive updates, aims to provide users with an intimate dining experience, he said, adding that users can swipe through people based on the interests they choose for their profile.

“That’s why when you open the app, we show you photos of people and not food,” he said. “Of course, if I see another breakdancing entrepreneur, I will drive 20 minutes to your house to eat with you.”

In December 2017, co-founder Hojung Kim, a then-senior at the University of Chicago, was crashing on Zhen’s sofa during a squash tournament hosted at Yale. Kim expressed what Zhen would later refer to as a “noodle of an idea”: What if you could turn your home into a restaurant, get paid and make friends?

The app was provisionally launched at the end of July. Now, co-founders Kim and Zhen, along with chief technology officer Eric Duong ’20, are releasing a new-and-improved version of the app.

Over the summer, the founders ran some test events and published the app, which received positive attention, Zhen said. But the app still struggled with technological bugs, he added, explaining that the app required people to spend several minutes building customized profiles before being able to look at or book events. He noted that, of the 60 downloads, only two people created profiles.

After months of development, Kim, Zhen and Duong have implemented various improvements to enhance users’ experiences with the app. To increase efficiency, people can now link their Facebook profiles to the app. And the time required to load Homecooked events has dropped to less than a minute. The app also sports an entirely new interface.

“The design is a lot cleaner and smoother. We even have a little mascot to guide you along,” Zhen told the News.

To ensure an intimate experience, this version of the app also limits the maximum number of dinner attendees to eight and requires that the cook join his or her guests.

“After eight guests, it’s harder for everyone to interact,” said Zhen, who has already hosted two Homecooked events. “And besides, watching people enjoy the food that you prepared is pretty magical. That’s one of the most special things about hosting.”

Hannah Lee ’20 said that at school, students seldom sit down for intimate meals. But on Oct. 21, Lee attended her first Homecooked event. Her host offered a traditional Chinese tea set in a homey atmosphere, she added. Lee told the News that she plans to attend more Homecooked events in the future.

The app is not necessarily aimed at undergraduate students, though. Zhen noted that its target audience is graduate students and other members of the New Haven community — people who know how to cook, have more disposable income and are looking to share meals with people.

Since its inception, Homecooked has worked with 18 different cooks and 120 customers throughout New Haven.

Kevin McCarthy, who has attended three Homecooked events, describes himself as “not your typical” guest. McCarthy, 64, is not Yale-affiliated. He said he enjoyed talking with the other attendees about the film “Crazy Rich Asians” and credits Homecooked for introducing him to hot pot.

Zhen said it was enlightening to find out why Homecooked app users enjoyed their dining experiences.

“People would tell me the conversation was amazing. But why? Is it because they had mutual friends? Or the diversity in age? Or something else?” he asked.

He hopes to implement a formal “chef-vetting” process and is considering including a jingle that goes off to let attendees know when it’s time to leave.

This weekend, Homecooked will have its 30th event.

Maya Vaknin | maya.vaknin@yale.edu