Experience is everything for Roza Ferdowsmakan. She owns a warehouse space in Phoenix’s Arcadia District, called Softwarehouse, where she aims to create great experiences for her legal clients (she has spent much of the last 20 years working as technology lawyer), as well as for the tech startup groups she hosts that are looking for fresh ideas. Apart from this, Roza is developing a new app called Bites that aims to bring a more cultural experience to cuisine.
Roza attended ASU for her bachelor’s degree, followed by Villanova’s School of Law, where she earned her Juris Doctorate. She served as in-house counsel for the City of Phoenix for many years, writing most of the drafts that allowed tech-savvy ride-share services like Uber to operate in the city lawfully. She also served as Senior Assistant Attorney General on the Arts Council of Phoenix until April of 2016, when she moved on to bigger forums.
Approaching Softwarehouse for the first time is an interesting experience. It’s located on bustling 44th Street, and pulling up you see a giant rusted sliding gate with a thick piece of steel folded to look like curling paper. This is the place where Roza feels most at home. Not only did she create it to be her personal live/work habitat, but she wanted the community to feel comfortable there, as well.
The property was designed by Phoenix architect Luis Salazar, who masterfully conceived of ways to convert it from personal living space to a professional work environment and back again. All of the walls are recessed with sliding doors. Plexiglas dividers with artistic inserts delineate rooms. “Not a single window here. They are all glass doors, open to the outside,” explains Roza as she walks me through. The space is bright and the furniture inviting. Sliding partitions cover the walls, so that the space can be simplified, if needed, very easily by closing off shelves.
Roza emigrated from Iran in 1978, around the time of the Islamic Revolution. Her family initially came to visit her uncle, who was working on his post-doctorate in agriculture in Logan, Utah. Events in Iran resulted in the family’s inability to return to home.
Amid the turmoil that left Roza and her mother stranded in a small town in Utah, Roza’s uncle quickly found work for them on the farm. Roza’s first job ever was to be picking produce. She remembers tasting fresh quiche for the first time at a dinner party on the farm and began to understand how food could be a communal experience. “It was a lesson in mindfulness,” she explains of that first taste. This experience would, decades later, help inspire her current focus.
“I hate the word office,” says Ferdowsmakan as we make our way into a spartan work space with glass walls looking out onto a courtyard with three large Hong Kong orchid trees and four comfortable chairs. She uses this work area for her law practice and meetings with clients. The entire room has a very comfortable aesthetic. A small table in the corner holds three different delicious-looking bottles of whiskey and glasses.
Roza recounts how, approximately a year and a half ago, she was looking for a new experience in the tech world. She wanted to blend technology and the culinary arts to create something fresh. Her goal was twofold: to create an app that would revolutionize how we experience food, and to create a community space to encourage true grassroots experiences.
Bites is an app that aims to merge the cultural with the culinary. The idea came from a time in Roza’s life when she had very little time to do anything. “I wanted adventure. I wanted to go do something, but it was a little complicated at the time. I was craving an escape, but I didn’t have the ability to get away.” Food, she explains, is one way for us to tap into the adventure of other cultures.
Without financial backing but with a do-it-yourself mentality, Roza built the app by learning the process on the fly and bringing in people to help when necessary. Because, for Roza, the journey toward creating a great meal is important, the app allows users to select a meal from a list of local chefs, ranging from home cooks and culinary arts students to professional chefs. The chosen chef will then gather the ingredients and prepare the meal in the user’s home, thus creating an experience that transcends the end product.
One interesting aspect of the app is the cross-pollination of benefits: local farms join because it offers risk-free sales, chefs are encouraged to use local farms to access quality ingredients, and users benefit from having a multitier experience with the cuisine. “It’s not like catering. They actually bring the raw ingredients and cook from scratch,” Roza says.
“It is not mandated that the chefs source from local farms, but it is highly encouraged, because it will show on their profile,” Roza explains. This helps to create lower price points so that a person of almost any socioeconomic level can access the service. There is also a rating system that shows users’ past experiences with the chefs.
The key to the app, for Roza, is the ability to do good. “It is about the economic empowerment of the chefs and the customer,” she says. She envisions the app exerting a positive effect on people’s lives, allowing chefs who otherwise might not have the ability to cook full-time to make food that they can take pride in, while giving users the ability share in the culture of food being prepared.
The app will also provide a directory of farms, available to both chefs and consumers. This is all provided cost-free to the farm, which makes the app an interesting model for promotion and sales incentives for local farmers. Roza refers to farms as the “passive beneficiaries” of the app.
As a technology lawyer and a resident of Phoenix for over 20 years, Roza is also excited about the independent infill that the Valley has been experiencing in the past few years. The idea of an identity budding in downtown Phoenix has really inspired her. She is also happy about the movement toward historic preservation that is gaining momentum. Having been on the Arts Council, it has been inspiring for Roza to see districts around downtown grow to national acclaim and witness the unique identity Phoenix has been cultivating in the past few years.
Bites will debut as a beta app primarily to the Phoenix metro area on July 1. This means that we in the Valley will have first dibs on getting our grub on with a local chef. The wider app will be released for both Android and iPhone on October 1. You can find out more at http://bites.mobi.