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From USC Law Magazine: Enterprising entrepreneur Alvin Salehi (JD 2013)

Julie Riggott • February 14, 2024
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Alvin Salehi (JD 2013) and Joey Grassia started Shef, an online marketplace for homemade food, to help immigrants (like their parents from Iran and Italy) earn a living selling home cooking in their local communities. The “she” in Shef is a tribute to the founders’ moms.

“[My parents] opened a restaurant, but the operational costs were so high that they eventually had to close,” says Salehi. “There are thousands of stories just like these, underscoring just how difficult it can be for so many families to make ends meet in the U.S. — a plight that is oftentimes compounded by antiquated laws.”

Up until recently, it was illegal in many states to cook and sell food from home. So, in addition to building his entrepreneurial venture, Salehi had to get the law changed. His USC Gould degree came in doubly handy. Salehi says they have worked with lawmakers across the country to help introduce safe and well-informed home-cooking legislation. “As of a few months ago, every state in the country now has a law on the books that allows for the sale of various homemade foods,” Salehi says.

“Building a company is hard enough as it is, but adding legislative reform on top of that can feel like a herculean task in the absence of a strong legal education and rigorous training,” Salehi adds. “Whether it was learning how to incorporate a business, draft an ironclad contract, or present an oral argument in front of a three-judge panel, Gould gave me the foundation I needed to take bold bets and pursue an ambitious set of goals with confidence.”

He also credits Gould Senior Director of Development Chloe Reid, his “guardian angel” and Professor Michael Roster for their inspiration and support.

When Salehi was working as a senior technology advisor in the Obama White House, where he wrote the country’s first Federal Source Code Policy and launched, he took a trip to the Syrian border to meet with refugees. “I came back deeply motivated to identify ways to ease the transition for immigrants and refugees starting a new life in the United States.” The idea for Shef took hold after he met Grassia at the Forbes Under 30 Summit in 2018, where Salehi was recognized for his law and policy work and Grassia for his food and drink ventures.

Since 2019, cooks on Shef have served millions of meals around the country and earned tens of millions of dollars. Currently, 85% of all cooks on the platform are women, and 80% are people of color.

Salehi said Shef is about more than just a great meal; it’s about bringing people together. “Every Shef meal comes with a handwritten note from the person who made your food — a reminder that this meal was made with love, just for you.”

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