In the past, if you wanted to book a decent caterer, you either had to find one through word of mouth, do a lot of googling, or just settle for a pre-made crudité plate with Ranch from the supermarket.
Chef Dazzer, a Boston-based startup which just launched in March 2018, hopes to change that. Its platform connects culinary professionals, personally vetted by their staff, with people for private event catering.
Chef Dazzer works in two ways: Customers can either get in touch through the company’s website, where they can chat with a staff member who acts as a personal “concierge” to match them to a chef. They can also download the app. On the app, chefs can create profiles, showcasing different menus and cuisines that they offer. Customers can flat-out book a particular menu from a chef, or they can chat via a built-in messaging platform in the app to customize which dishes they would like at their event.
The two different platform entry points put me in mind of dating services: you can either go into an app and see what’s available, or you can go through an intermediary — like a matchmaker — to help with the selection process. In general, the website is for customers who want a little more hand-holding and want a person to talk to about their event — which, according to their CEO Mike Cormier, is one of the most popular aspects of the platform.
After their catering event, customers have the opportunity to rate the chefs on a five-star system. When the clients pay the chefs, Chef Dazzer takes a 15 percent cut.
Chef Dazzer is not the first company trying to connect professional chefs to private clients. But it might have come along at the right time. One of the first companies to try this model was Kitchensurfing, which closed in 2016 after raising $20 million in capital. According to Cormier and Avery Gordon, who runs the chef operations side of Chef Dazzer, it’s at least in part because they launched before the Boston market was ready for this kind of model.
“Back when Kitchensurfing came out, having someone come to your house and cook for you was still a very new idea. Now with things like care.com, people are much more comfortable with the idea of having someone you don’t personally know come over,” said Cormier.
Chef Dazzer also hopes to distinguish themselves by curating a high-quality experience, both for the chefs and the clients. They want to showcase culinary talent by choosing chefs that they know are high-quality, so you won’t book a local high schooler posing as a Michelin-star to cater your 400 person black-tie event.
To pick which chefs will join their platform, Gordon dips into her years of experience in the Boston culinary community. The approach seems to be working for them now, since they’re new and small, but it will be interesting to see if they can keep up this vetting strategy as they grow and expand to new cities.
Another potential issue for the company is lead time: most of ChefDazzer’s clients book chefs two weeks to one month out, though they can also contact a chef a few days before the event. At a time where people are used to ordering a slew of pizzas for a party and having them delivered in 45 minutes, it’s a risk to bet on customers being willing to plan that far ahead.
So far, Chef Dazzer has seen a good bit of demand — mostly on the chef side. They have a queue of 55-60 chefs who are interested in joining the platform, but only 10 or so are currently live on the website and app. They hope to scale up as they build their community of both chefs and clients.
Chef Dazzer is bootstrapped and hopes to create a solid user base before building their seed round. Until then, Bostonites can browse chefs to cater their next event, as long as they’re ready to plan a bit ahead.