Beyond nutrition

Personal chefs for seniors provide more than meals.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

When it comes to the independent, elderly population, nutritional concerns often trump others because it’s not just about whether a person is eating but what he or she is eating. Chefs for Seniors aims to alleviate that worry.

After a year of testing the concept on their own, Barrett Allman, a long-time restaurateur, and his son, Nathan, 22, launched Chefs for Seniors as a solution to a critical problem they were noticing every day. “A lot of the people coming into our restaurants were seniors,” says Nathan, co-founder and COO. “We’d ask them what they ate at home and often they’d tell us popcorn, or frozen dinners, or baked potatoes.

“We saw a big need out there for healthy dinners, so it seemed intuitive to us. If your sink is broken, call a plumber. If you need help with meals, call a chef.”

Chefs for Seniors has prepared meals for 150 seniors and has 70 ongoing relationships. “We want to take that 70 and add zeros to that,” he says.

Many customers utilize the in-home service on a short-term basis to help after a surgery, for example. No contracts are required.

For $12 per meal or $20 per gourmet meal (all organic, grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, etc.), a professional chef visits a client in the home. Within two hours they produce and package a week’s worth of customized meals. “It’s like a show in their own kitchen,” Allman explains. “The chefs get all four burners going, they’re flipping food in a pan, chopping vegetables quickly, and baking in the oven. Their efficiency allows us to charge reasonable rates for our meals.”

What they’ve learned is that the socialization almost becomes more important than the food, and the chef visits become the highlight of the week for many. “After a while I knew what my customers needed almost better than they did. Eventually I started designing their menus for them. It’s a huge relief for families.”

That customization is what makes Chefs for Seniors unique compared to other meal delivery services, he says. Seniors are often on restricted diets — low salt, low sugar or, if a person is taking the drug Warfarin, they must stay away from dark, leafy greens. The chefs take all of that into account as they plan meals with the clients.

There’s another benefit, as well. They provide another set of eyes on a family’s loved one, and they can alert families or caregivers if they notice something out of the ordinary. “The food actually becomes secondary,” Nathan explains.

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Clients range from active seniors who want to maintain their health to those who either cannot cook or just choose not to, perhaps due to physical limitations. Someone using oxygen, for example, shouldn’t be working around stoves or hot ovens.

A finalist in the 2013 G. Steven Burrill Business Plan Competition, the company now employs 10 chefs, including seven in the Madison area. The chefs range from older professionals looking for a change of pace and daytime hours to younger chefs who might work in the evenings but want some extra income.

Chefs for Seniors received $125,000 after being accepted into the California-based 500 Startups program, widely considered one of the top accelerators in the world. The money will be used for marketing and experimentation. “500 Startups doesn’t tell you how you should spend your money,” Nathan notes. “They assume you’ll do what’s best for your company.”

Prior to that windfall, the company was self-supported. “We started with less than $500. There is no overhead. We shop for ingredients at grocery stores, so it’s been profitable since day one. My goal is to expand this nationwide and open up in two more markets by the end of the year. There are so many seniors who could use this service, so we’re doing whatever we can.”

Chefs for Seniors Inc.
(844) 237-2433 (toll free)

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