In a world where flavors transcend borders and cherished memories are etched onto each dish, SHEF emerges as more than just a digital food delivery service. Tailored for the discerning palates of devoted food enthusiasts and families eager to celebrate their authentic heritage, SHEF creates a bridge between cultures and kitchens. As I delve into the heart of this culinary phenomenon, I find its roots intertwined with the resilience of immigrant communities, where the preservation of culture often finds its last bastion in the realm of food.
A pertinent illustration of this concept arises from my own doctoral thesis and my work with Cook Aunty. Here is where I discovered a profound interplay between culture and the immigrant experience, specifically highlighting how the baton of cultural identity is passed down through generations, with food often emerging as a steadfast vessel for these cherished traditions.
It's in this context that SHEF's significance resonates. With the platform connecting individuals with home chefs who ardently uphold their culinary heritage, SHEF becomes a dynamic thread in the tapestry of cultural continuity.
Launched in 2019, SHEF is currently in several markets including NYC, Houston, Chicago, Seattle, Boston, LA, DC, Atlanta and more. See the list here. The company offers a delectable array of cuisines, ranging from Italian and Indian to Mexican and beyond. Review the list of authentic global cuisines.
Join me as I delve into a conversation with Joey Grassia, the visionary catalyst propelling SHEF's mission forward along with his business partner, Alvin Salehi. Discover the heartwarming journey that breathed life into this culinary haven, and learn about how it is revolutionizing our approach to food in everyday life!
Could you provide insights into the underlying inspiration that drove the establishment of your business?
My journey to create a more inclusive food system began when I lost my mom over a decade ago. I am a first-generation Italian American, so family and food were both important growing up, as was the idea of building a better future for our family and those around us. From a young age, I felt immense gratitude for the opportunities I had because of my parents, as well as a sense of responsibility to extend these opportunities to as many people as possible.
The path to pay it forward was unclear until my mother passed away in 2010. I fell into a bit of soul-searching and kept coming back to the importance of food, both the role it plays in communicating culture and identity, as well as its impact on well-being, something I experienced firsthand after being hospitalized due to my diet in college.
For me, everything since then has been a way of honoring my mom. There's no better way to honor her than by empowering other amazing women to share their passion for food and earn a meaningful income doing what they love.
Amidst the proliferation of online food delivery services, what distinct attributes differentiate your business and position it as a compelling and distinctive choice?
We did not start Shef to compete with other food delivery companies; we started the company to empower talented cooks like our own mothers - to enable them to share their culture and food for the first time.
Unfortunately, prior to Shef, this opportunity was unavailable to most. It costs, on average, $300,000 to open a restaurant, and there are myriad challenges that make a brick-and-mortar facility out of reach for most people. Shef creates a cost-effective way for amazing cooks to share their food with others and get their start in the food industry.
Shef currently supports thousands of shefs around the country! 85% of shefs on our platform are women, and 80% are people of color. Shef invests time and effort into working with people who haven’t had access to opportunities to share their incredible, authentic cuisine with others!
The result for consumers is something magical. The quality and types of dishes you find on Shef are unlike any other service. Most shefs are cooking recipes that have been handed down through generations, and they are preparing them meticulously for each individual consumer, using the freshest ingredients and cooking each dish in small batches. As a result, the quality and flavor is far beyond what you find anywhere else.
What criteria guides your process of choosing and integrating home chefs into your platform? Which qualities or skills are prioritized to ensure a varied and top-tier culinary assortment?
Alvin & I started Shef to honor our own mothers and the homemade meals that shaped our childhoods. The platform has grown into a place where passionate chefs everywhere can earn a meaningful income by sharing their own handcrafted recipes.
Anyone interested in joining Shef can visit our site's “Become a Shef” page where they will work directly with our team to ensure they have the support they need to get their business up and running - from food safety requirements to menu formulation and marketing.
Once shefs are approved and live, our team provides ongoing support, coaching and marketing help to ensure that shefs can hone their business and grow.
Can you share a particular case where a customer's experience with a dish prepared by one of your featured home chefs had a lasting impact?
Many of the dishes on our platform are recipes passed down through generations, so we often receive heartfelt notes from consumers trying a dish for the first time in years- in many cases, for the first time since their mother or grandmother made it for them.
I had this exact experience when I flew out to launch Shef in New York in 2020. I connected with one of our first Shefs in New York named Gessica. She had recently immigrated from Italy with her husband. We started talking about braciole, my favorite Italian dish and one that has been close to my heart since my mother made it for us growing up. It’s also a dish that you’ll never find at an Italian restaurant because of the amount of time and care it takes to make. Turns out, she makes braciole for her husband every week and I asked her to add it to her menu.
When it came time to launch, I called my dad to tell him about Gessica, and he ended up ordering braciole for the entire Shef team in New York. There’s a bit of an embarrassing video of me tearing up as I was eating it. It was just like my mom’s, right down to the sauce, and it was one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had. That’s the experience we want to give to our customers, allowing them to more deeply experience their daily meals, whether they are rediscovering a taste of home or exploring something entirely new.
Looking ahead, what exciting developments or expansions do you envision for your business?
Our focus right now is nationwide expansion. We currently deliver to nearly 700 cities across the country, but every state has different regulations when it comes to food preparation and delivery. Our top priority is making sure every meal delivered exceeds the utmost food safety standard, which means a slow and steady race to empower talented food entrepreneurs across all 50 states. There are incredibly talented cooks in every community in this country, and we want to ensure every one of them has access to this opportunity.
With SHEF, the culinary experience becomes a celebration of roots, a communion of cultures, and a testament to the enduring legacy of flavors that unite us all. I love discovering & supporting the local cooks in my area and I think you will too!
Here's $20 off to try it ($10 off first 2 orders) when you order using my link:
How to order:
Head to Shef.com and enter your zip code!
The delivery date will automatically be set to the soonest possible option—in as little as 24 hours!
Choose your ideal delivery date at the top of the page to browse cuisines from local Shefs including photos, ingredient information, and more.
Pro tip: you can order multiple dishes from different Shef’s in the same order.
Select your ideal delivery date in cart and check out!
LA-based Green Sea Shells is an online magazine that encapsulates the vibrant essence of Indian-American life, culture, and family travel. Join our community and subscribe to our complimentary monthly newsletter, Roots & Routes. Some of our GSS articles contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking a link, we’ll collect a share of sales at no additional cost to you.