Top Chef Meals, a recently relaunched home meal delivery service based in Elmsford, started with a single customer: its founder’s dad.
Paul Ghiron, president of Top Chef Meals and Crystal Spoon Corp., the latter one of Westchester’s oldest corporate caterers, said one day his father called and asked him to bring home food from the catering service.
“Then the next day he calls me again and asks the same thing,” Ghiron said. “By the third day, I say OK, what’s going on?”
Ghiron said his father, who lives on his own in Briarcliff Manor, explained that he had limited options for food. He could go to a diner, where the portions were often too big, or shop at the grocery store, where items sold in bulk often went to waste.
“I thought, well this sounds like an opportunity here,” Ghiron said.
In 2010, he launched Top Chef Meals with a focus on delivering freshly prepared, flash-frozen single meals to seniors in the Westchester area. The company has shifted its operations since then, including work producing meals for diet companies.
In 2015, Ghiron decided to relaunch the company with a new website and branding, this time taking the pre-made meal delivery concept to a wider range of demographics, including parents, seniors and millennials throughout the U.S.
In the past year, Ghiron said, the company has grown its customer base to Texas, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio. Top Chef Meals can deliver from a list of more than 50 meals anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains. Meals are made fresh by a team of chefs and are customizable to accommodate dietary practices such as Paleo and gluten-free diets and any other allergy restrictions.
“It’s like having a chef cook a meal for you, at a fraction of the cost,” Ghiron said.
The meals are cooked at the company’s 11,000-square-foot facility in Elmsford, flash-frozen and delivered either by courier to homes within the New York region or by FedEx. Delivery is free if customers order 21 individual meals.
Meals cost between $6.85 and $7.50 for the company’s standard line, with premium and gourmet lines that run between $7.50 and $16.
Ghiron said the new Top Chef Meals has seen quick growth since its relaunch, which will be a crucial part of helping his company through recent financial troubles.
Crystal Spoon Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and reorganization in February. Ghiron said the bankruptcy came after a diet meal company he had contracted with went out of business, leaving him unpaid for what he said was several hundred thousands of dollars in services.
“We are paying off our debts and continuing on,” Ghiron said. “It’s a long-term process, Chapter 11.”
“Top Chef is really what is solving a problem that was from several years ago,” he added.
A former Air Force pilot, Ghiron took over the family catering company in 1989, when it was called Execu-Lunch. His parents launched the business in 1973, catering largely to corporate clients in office-park cafeterias. Ghiron changed the company name in 2008 to Crystal Spoon. The company has catered for clients that include Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, St. John’s Riverside Hospital and AVR Realty, Ghiron said.
Since relaunching as a food delivery service in 2015, Ghiron said Top Chef Meals has grown from $5,000 in monthly sales to $100,000 in November. The company has increased employment from 20 to 57 workers, he said, including new hires for customer service.
Ghiron said when he first launched Top Chef in 2010, there weren’t many companies doing home meal delivery of any kind. Since then, home meal and grocery delivery has grown into a billion-dollar industry. Startups such as HelloFresh and Blue Apron have raised hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital to deliver kit meals, packages with pre-measured ingredients and recipes to be put to use by the customer at home. Even The New York Times this year began selling delivery meal kits of its recipe articles.
But Ghiron said his company can set itself apart in the growing field, as meals from Top Chef don’t require any cooking other than reheating, are more customizable and target a wider demographic than the often millennial-focused startups.
“No one is trying what we are,” Ghiron said. “Everyone is following the kit meal bandwagon.”
He said about 70 percent of his customers are between the ages of 40 and 90, with the other 30 percent drawing from the millennial demographic of 18- to 34-year-olds. “It’s young, single people dieting who don’t have time to cook. Or seniors who just don’t want to cook anymore.”
The company will soon expand its offerings to family packs, with food portions beyond the single meals that Top Chef now delivers. He said he’d also like to be able to move into the West Coast market, particularly California, which would require either building a new facility there or licensing the product to another producer.