Startup Serves Up Home Care One Meal at a Time

It doesn’t matter how old you are, eating is vital to living an independent and healthy life. But for some seniors living at home, the task of cooking and preparing meals can put that independence, as well as their own personal health, in check.

Enter: Chefs for Seniors, a company based in Madison, Wis., that offers cooking and meal preparation for seniors still living at home. The company employs a team of professionally-trained chefs who essentially make house calls to the residences of their senior clientele.

Not only do chefs prepare a week’s worth of meals for clients, but they also do the grocery shopping and handle cleaning duties once finished with preparations. While these might sound like menial household chores, having just some assistance with these everyday tasks carries big implications for helping seniors stay out of assisted living and out of the hospital.

Professional chefs at your door

The Chefs for Seniors cost structure breaks down into two parts, 21-year-old co-founder Nathan Allman tells HHCN.

The first part is grocery shopping, which occurs before a chef comes to a senior’s home. For this component of the service, Allman says Chefs charges a flat rate of $15 in addition to the cost of groceries. Once a chef is in the home making meals, Chefs charges an hourly rate of $30.

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Although chefs may be preparing meals for a whole week for one particular senior, their skill sets as professional chefs—being well-equipped to multi-task and operate more than one burner at a time—enables them to make a lot of food in a short period of time, Allman says.

Typically, it can take anywhere from 1.5 to two hours for a chef to make a week’s worth of meals, he adds, which in turn could cost between $60-$75 for a senior. Based on a client’s preference, the chef will visit seniors’ homes twice a week, weekly or bi-weekly.

“Routine is important for seniors, so we try to keep the same chef coming to their home every week,” Allman says.

While the company is for the most part assigning chefs geographically, deployment is based on the foods chefs can prepare, as some specialize in certain types of ethnic foods.

But before a chef is assigned to a senior’s home, the process starts with a free, no obligation consultation, which allows Chefs for Seniors to create what Allman likes to call a “game plan” on how best to serve a client.

“It’s an opportunity for us to go into the senior’s home and talk about what their dietary concerns are so we can formulate a menu that’s customized to meet their needs,” he says.

The consultation also helps Chefs give the senior a price estimate on how much the requested services will cost.

In terms of selecting the meals that will be prepared, Allman says the process is largely a “balancing act.”

“Obviously, we want to make them [seniors] food they want to enjoy eating, but we also want to make nutritious food.”

A family affair

The idea for Chefs for Seniors came during Allman’s sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, fueled by the personal experience of his great-grandmother who moved into an assisted living facility about 8 years ago.

“The reason was because she wasn’t eating properly,” Allman said.

Allman co-founded Chefs for Seniors alongside his father, Barrett Allman, a professional chef with more than 25 years of experience that has included owning restaurants on the West Coast and southern Wisconsin.

Reflecting on the family’s history in the restaurant business, as well as his own cooking expertise and the experiences of his great-grandmother, the younger Allman drew up a business plan for what would eventually become Chefs for Seniors and entered it into UW-Madison’s Burrill Business Plan Competition in 2013.

The idea for Chefs for Seniors took fourth place overall out of 36 teams and won the Lifestyle Services category, offering Allman a prize of $1,000, which would become the company’s startup funds.

Since then, the family-run company has built up a staff of eight professional chefs, though both Nathan and Barrett Allman still see a few clients themselves as well.

Fitting into the equation

The services provided by Chefs for Seniors extend far beyond just simply providing a bit of extra help around the kitchen.

“It’s more than just food, it’s preventative health—having the services that are able to keep people from going back to the hospital,” Allman says.

Malnutrition most severely affects the most vulnerable populations, particularly among seniors and children, with some studies showing that as many as 1 out of 4 older Americans suffer from poor nutrition.

Among seniors living in their own communities, the National Resource Center on Nutrition, Physical Activity & Aging estimates there are “hundreds of thousands” older adults who are malnourished.

That presents a sizeable market opportunity for a company like Chefs for Seniors, which at a relatively low cost, can provide seniors with access to professional dining services right within their own homes.

And the medical community is starting to take notice. The company, which gets referrals from local doctors and nurses, has already been seeing some significant
progress in helping the seniors it serves.

“Chefs for Seniors definitely fits into the equation of preventative health,” Allman says. “We can improve people’s health and we’ve seen some amazing things happen. People that need to gain weight, gain weight; and people that need to lose weight, lose weight.”

Because the company serves some seniors who might be just leaving the hospital and only need their nutrition services for a period of several weeks, their client base is liable to change, but hovers around 60 seniors.

Just two years into its formation, Chefs for Seniors has already expanded its service offerings to seniors in Rockford, Ill., a little less than 75 miles away.

“The saying is ‘you are what you eat,’ and we’ve definitely found that to be true,” says Allman.

Written by Jason Oliva