Kravin Kitchen is shaping itself into a one-stop shop for personal and private chefs and connecting the people who want to hire them.
Co-founder Andre Collins, 32, had been honing the concept since late 2015. During dinner with his wife at a local restaurant, they began talking about learning more about the chefs behind the meals. They also thought about personal chefs and conducted market research to discover how people went about finding one. What they found was that people didn’t know where to start or thought they couldn’t afford one.
The Charlotte-based startup launched in February as an online marketplace that connected “Kravers” with local chefs who curated customized meals and offered private dining experiences. Feedback went a long way after the initial launch, according to Collins, who says his team emerged from the monthlong beta phase with a refined business model.
“The unanimous feedback received from the hundreds of chefs is that it would be so much better if there was a one-stop shop for the tools and capabilities to help run their businesses,” he said.
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As a result, Kravin Kitchen kept the marketplace option for Kravers but pivoted its model to helping personal and private chefs streamline their businesses.
On the front end, consumers search the website directory by zip code to find participating chefs in their area, filter by services or food specialties and read chefs’ culinary backgrounds before booking them.
On the back end of the website, meanwhile, chefs sign up for one of four subscriptions ranging from a no-cost “starter” option to the bells and whistles “professional” package for roughly $42 a month. Tools assist with menu management, email marketing, payment processing, tax compliance, business analytics and more. Subscriptions will roll out in phases through the end of the summer.
“It’s a marketplace that unites people around food and entrepreneurship,” Collins said.
The new focus required more capital because Collins, a commercial real estate broker at Lincoln Harris, had bootstrapped the venture until this point. He set out on a capital campaign to raise $200,000 and secured commitments for 100% of the pre-seed funding in seven weeks, thanks to relationships he nurtured throughout his career in commercial real estate and corporate finance.
How the pandemic set the stage
Private chefs — those working for an individual household — and personal chefs — those working for multiple clients — were trending before the pandemic, but their popularity accelerated as people spent more time indoors due to multiple stay-at-home orders. Food requirements also changed with capacity limitations on social gatherings.
“With the advent of smaller parties and intimate weddings and kinds of catering, it’s got chefs looking at things differently and they now have choices,” said Larry Lynch, president of the United States Personal Chefs Association.
Personal chefs have evolved from simply preparing meal plans and should almost be viewed as microbusinesses, according to Lynch.
“You can create great food, no ifs, ands or buts about it. But to be able to do that, and be able to operate a business, it’s another whole skill set,” he said.
Chef Edward Walker knows firsthand the challenges of getting jump-started as a foodpreneur.
Losing his job in 2020 was the motivation to go all-in with his brand, The Favored Chef, where he’d provide catering services and fulfill personal and private chef requests. It was something he started four years earlier but didn’t market himself accordingly, so he pushed it aside.
Pre-Covid, Walker worked for Compass Group managing catering for Bank of America accounts. When the pandemic cleared out corporate offices and canceled events, Walker was laid off.
“Getting let go pushed me to really pursue full-time being a personal and private chef,” said Walker, who touted nearly 20 years of restaurant industry experience as an executive chef.
By the time the Kravin Kitchen team found him on Instagram around January, Walker says he was already getting booked up to four times a week for private dining experiences and providing weekly meal prep services for clients.
“Andre and his wife told me about the platform — because they were still in the works at that point — and I liked what they were saying,” Walker recalled.
Social media is just one of the avenues the Kravin Kitchen team uses to source chefs for its platform. There’s a combination of cold calling and warm leads. Leveraging relationships of its advisory board members is another strategy. For example, board member Kris Reid is plugged into the Carolinas’ culinary community as executive director of the Piedmont Culinary Guild.
Walker kept in touch with the Collins — Andre’s wife, KéCee, manages business development and sales at Kravin Kitchen. They began referring clients to the chef’s services even before the website formally launched.
“One of the clients was the family who owned Belk [department store]. I did a dinner experience for them, as well as a couple of other clients,” Walker shared.
He continues to advocate for companies like Kravin Kitchen that are helping chefs gain more experience in the industry but also be more financially stable.
With food businesses already operating on thin margins, chef Hannah Riley of Alternative Chef says sometimes it doesn’t seem beneficial to partner up with companies that offer delivery services for food businesses.
Food delivery apps devise fees differently but range between 20% to 40% of how much a restaurant makes in app-generated revenue, according to NPR. Kravin Kitchen does offer an optional plug-in for a third-party delivery app or chefs can self-manage pickup and delivery options.
Regardless, Riley says she appreciates “Kravin Kitchen not taking as big of a percentage of your bottom line sales.” According to its website, Kravin Kitchen would get 1.25% of sales generated through the platform.
“Even though I have a meal prep delivery service, I also am a personal chef, and I’m also a caterer. It opens me up to being able to accept different customers for different reasons,” she said. “Instead of having to go to a bunch of different apps, they combine all of it into one convenient spot.”