Nathan Allman, co-founder of Chefs For Seniors tells us about nourishing meals made with love.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Nathan Allman: Doing well, all things considered. We certainly wouldn’t trade our troubles for anyone else’s.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Chefs For Seniors.
Nathan Allman: Chefs For Seniors was founded in 2013 by Barrett Allman, an executive chef and restaurant owner with over 25 years of experience in the foodservice industry. As is the case with many other professionals in the industry, he found it challenging to maintain a balance between work and time with family. He wanted to find a way to use his skillset as a professional chef to make a difference in his community while giving him flexibility. In talking with senior customers in his restaurants, he was struck by how many told him they struggled to cook meals for themselves. He wanted to connect with the people he was cooking for and came up with the idea for a service that would enable seniors to age in place. A few months after the company was founded, Barrett’s son Nathan joined the Chefs For Seniors team.
For the first year, Nathan and Barrett prepared meals for clients themselves in Madison, WI (where the company is based), learning about seniors’ specific needs and fine-tuning the business model using lean startup concepts. As demand for Chefs For Seniors grew, they brought in other chefs in the Madison area, eventually expanding to other states.
In May 2016, the Chefs For Seniors team participated in Batch 17 of 500 Startups, one of the most prestigious startup accelerators in the world. Based in Silicon Valley and specializing in growth marketing, the program has an acceptance rate of less than 2%. The accelerator program gave the team extensive knowledge of online marketing (i.e., Facebook and Google AdWords), traditional offline marketing (direct mailers, press relations), building referral networks, and personal selling.
Since its inception, Chefs For Seniors has prepared over 590,000 meals for seniors across the US and currently has 50+ franchises open throughout the country. Our mission is to “IMPROVE SENIORS’ LIVES THROUGH FOOD!”
How does Chefs For Seniors innovate?
Nathan Allman: We are always looking for ways to innovate our offerings to better serve our clients. Given that we service a senior demographic, we want to interact with our clients in a high-touch, low-tech fashion while providing high-tech solutions that enable our team of franchise owners to operate their businesses efficiently.
Also, having a decentralized team of franchise owners spread throughout the country allows us to gather real-time feedback from hands-on operators with “boots on the ground.”
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Nathan Allman: Like every other business, COVID-19 has impacted Chefs For Seniors. However, our franchise network has fared better than most. We are following CDC guidelines for providing our service safely, and Q4 2020 was our highest quarter ever in terms of system-wide revenue. Going forward, we know that more seniors are going to gravitate toward solutions that help them age in place. We have also seen lots of interest in our franchise opportunities given the high number of unemployed hospitality workers.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Nathan Allman: We decided to reduce our royalty percentage we collect from franchise owners in March, April, and May, in order to soften the blow of revenue losses during the initial lockdowns.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Nathan Allman: Like most other businesses, we’ve gotten pretty comfortable using Zoom. We’ve incorporated Zoom webinars and Discovery Days into our franchise sales cycle and have weekly educational webinars with our franchise owners.
We’ve also used Slack as our internal communication channel for franchisees to share best practices and present challenges. Since so many of them struggle with the same things during COVID, having a platform like Slack helps individual owners not feel so isolated.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Nathan Allman: While there aren’t any direct substitutes for our services, we compete with meal delivery services, which have increased in popularity during COVID. However, we feel that the unique combination of customized meals and companionship provided by Chefs For Seniors will enable us to remain a market leader in the senior meal space going forward.
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