When it comes to the F&B industry in the UAE, brands are a dime a dozen. Being a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities, combined with a love for food and dining, the country has seen its fair share of new and exciting F&B companies.
Foodtech, primarily delivery-related companies, has been a segment that has seen increased activity, especially after COVID-19 increasingly pushed the dining experience outside of restaurants and food courts and back into diners’ homes. So much so, in fact, that online sales within the UAE’s food and beverage market surged 255% year-over-year in 2020 to reach $412 million.
Food delivery and meal plan businesses had to step up to fulfil this demand, and now, a new kind of service is trying to shake up the industry.
HeyChef: the UAE’s first online on-demand personal chef service
Pranav Arora and Mugdha Kalvade, co-founders of HeyChef
On a weekday evening like any other, married couple Pranav Arora and Mugdha Kalvade sat down to have dinner: a pot of biryani, their favourite dish. As the two of them enjoyed their meal, they realised how great it was that they could walk in late from work in the middle of the week and not have to worry about dinner. The aforementioned pot of biryani? It was prepared fresh and on-demand, by a freelance personal chef that the Aroras often commissioned.
The concept of hiring a personal chef was not too foreign in the UAE, a country known for its lavish parties and big gatherings. Companies that offer this kind of service existed. Freelancers were available in the market too.
What wasn’t available, however, was a digital, on-demand platform that made requesting a personal chef as simple as ordering an Uber or putting in an order via Talabat. And this is the niche that the Aroras identified.
“It made sense, and the idea was very unique,” Pranav Arora told the Abu Dhabi SME Hub.
A last-minute market shakeup
Fast-forward from that fateful dinner during November of 2019 to a few months later in February of 2020, and the couple’s new company, dubbed HeyChef, was now ready to hit the market. However, reports were coming in from around the world concerning a new virus that had been spreading rapidly and infecting thousands: a novel coronavirus strain.
The couple’s plans were naturally derailed, and after much work and perseverance, and a stroke of luck with UAE lockdown restrictions easing after a gruelling three months, the company was finally launched in Dubai in May, albeit with two chefs instead of five. The advent of social distancing posed an extra challenge for the startup that no one could have possibly predicted, but after months of isolation and reliance on food delivery, customers just wanted to be treated to a warm, fresh-cooked meal, and HeyChef’s luck had finally taken a turn.
600+ customers and more than 5000 bookings later, it’s safe to say that HeyChef has settled nicely into its niche.
How it works
Essentially, a customer logs on to the HeyChef website, reviews a selection of chefs that specialise in different cuisines and books one per availability, chooses the kind of service they want (one-time service, weekly, etc.), in addition to their personal and dietary preferences, and opts to either provide the ingredients needed for the dishes or to pay an extra charge for the chef to bring them with him.
As for payment, it is handled online via payment gateways, with customers able to book a chef for a minimum of two hours and upwards, with the one-time service costing AED 75 per hour, for example.
A big part of marketing their service was to position the chefs as the face of the company, Pranav explained. Not only does this help give a relatable identity to the brand, but it also helps customers familiarise themselves with their chef of choice before he arrives at their home. After all, when your offered service involves a stranger entering your customers’ home, you want to do everything you can to help make this as seamless and secure of an experience as possible.
“It [creates] a virtual acquaintance, and once [the chef] comes to your house, it’s the person you saw online,” Pranav said.
Chefs arrive in full uniform while donning a face mask. They are equipped with their own utensils, and will handle the entire cooking process: from prep to cleanup.
As for their customers, Pranav has noted that this includes everyone from the working couple with kids, to the party host who would rather have a dedicated chef that not only cooks them fresh meals on-demand, but who is also more cost-efficient than a catering service that would charge a host per guest.
Currently, HeyChef remains a self-funded venture, with the enterprising couple possibly considering a future funding round to grow and expand their operations.
As for future expansion efforts, Abu Dhabi is the first destination on their minds.
In terms of their team in Dubai, they want to reach a chef count of ten this year.