Succeeding in the restaurant business has never been easy. For chefs, hard work means long hours and brutal competition. There’s also the stark reality of San Francisco’s restaurant survival rate; with every restaurant open during the pandemic, data from the city’s Public Health Department shows two restaurants are closed. Just months before the global shutdown, San Francisco’s opening rate at the close was 1:1.4.
Then there are the legal restrictions, allowing the nightmares and overwhelming costs of professional cooking that deter people from getting into the business. City economist Ted Egan said at the June 7 SF Nightlife and Entertainment Summit that while the hospitality sector is on the rise, the lack of growth in the hospitality industry the restoration has kept the city’s rebound behind other metropolitan areas.
The emergence of COVID-19 has raised the stakes for restaurant workers, and especially chefs, which is why Shef.com – founded in the Bay Area in 2019 – has become more relevant. Culinary newbies and experts alike have used the platform to sell their dishes to residents of San Francisco and the Peninsula, creating Shef’s biggest and strongest market. Thousands of Bay Area chefs have asked to use the Shef platform to date, according to the company.
Daly City chief Crystle Gonzales joined the app last year with her husband, Ronald, when she wanted to find extra income and retain the flexibility to care for her daughter. After discovering Shef from an Instagram ad, the couple decided to bring the food they gave to their happy friends and family to the masses.
“The way we prepared Filipino and Guamanian food was unlike anything they had ever tried before,” Gonzales said. “Reviews and feedback helped us create our menu for Shef.”
Today, the Gonzales family cooks at least twice a month and the demand is constant. They create between 20 and 40 plates per order with plates costing between $13 and $21. Because of this success, the Gonzalais say Shef has allowed them to build their brand and get their food known on social media.
“It’s a way to inspire creatives looking to share their craft through food,” said Crystle Gonzales. “I think in the times we live in so many people are trying to find their way into entrepreneurship, so Shef provides that and more.”
The couple were able to experiment and expedite orders from home thanks to a law signed the same year as Shef was founded: Assembly Bill 626. Authored by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, AB 626 amended the state’s health and safety code to allow a “microbusiness home cooking operation,” according to the California Department of Public Health.
As stated by AB 626, people may cook from their own personal properties and advertise food for sale commercially only after crossing an application and inspection process. Additionally, the applicant’s county must have opted into the program.
The fact that registered shefs can set their own times and prices saved Wayne Xavier from North Beach. Xavier, a chef from Mumbai, is a fan of the website and app partly because of where he started: he had two food carts in downtown San Francisco that weren’t profitable only for two weeks – the two weeks before the lockdown.
“When you’re in deep debt, you just want to get started, and I took it seriously,” he said of his current business. “There were almost 20 things on the menu (from the first Shef). Then I set up a second menu. I cook every day, day and night. It’s hard, but in the end, it’s my life.
With an average restaurant license costing $1,287, Xavier gladly relies on Shef for his income. He reduced his expenses by employing one person to help with the preparation.
“Quite honestly, for me, I think there’s nothing better,” said Xavier, who was a training chief for years. “The next step for me is a restaurant.”
Xavier likes his offerings on Shef to contribute to a kind of “mini UN”. Due to the national and ethnic diversity of participating chefs, Shef users can choose cuisine prepared by immigrants and refugees from 96 countries.
Chief’s website claims that 75% of “shefs” are women; 80% are people of color. It’s a perfect fit for a company founded by two first-generation Americans, Alvin Salehi and Joey Grassia.
Sons of Iranian and Italian families, Salehi and Grassia met at a conference in 2018 and bonded by their similar backgrounds. A few months later, Grassia crashed at Salehi’s home and saw Shef’s initial vision detailed on a whiteboard, a spokesperson for Shef told the Examiner. Grassia and Salehi quickly filmed a pitch for Y Combinator and were accepted into the 2019 Startup Incubator Program.
Businessmen saw a market for households like where they came from where income could be earned by sharing the kitchen with neighbors. Their main goal remains to keep it simple for chefs. The Shef platform connects customers to cooks and handles payments and delivery, the latter of which is handled by a third-party delivery provider in the Bay Area.
Like the founders of Shef, Gonzales and Xavier said they were able to go back to their roots with their new ventures. Gonzales grew up watching cooking segments on KQED. Xavier competed against his brother in cooking contests at their family home in India.
“The proof is in the pudding. (People want) to try,” Xavier said of his Indochinese menu. people sharing their own recipes. It’s completely different.
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