How Dubai’s HeyChef plans to disrupt the post-Covid food industry

“We cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if we have not had a good dinner”.

The quote from English author Virginia Woolf is the motivation behind HeyChef, a Dubai-based food technology start-up founded by Indian entrepreneurs Pranav Arora and Mugdha Kalvade.

The idea is simple but innovative: Customers can hire the company’s chefs on an hourly basis to prepare meals from the comfort of their own homes, with full control over menu, ingredients, portions and taste.

The concept of reinventing home cooking emerged during a casual table conversation between the husband and wife duo.

“After a particularly long day at work, we came home with a pot of biryani – our favorite dish – prepared by our weekly personal cook. As we sat down and had our meal we said how awesome it was that we could both come home late from work and not have to worry about dinner, ”Mr Arora, 32, who is also a management consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dubai, says The National.

We have seen the demand for this type of service and it has the potential to grow dramatically as more and more people become familiar with the service, which is a positive sign for us.

Pranav Arora, co-founder of HeyChef

“We had a freshly cooked meal waiting for us… not a basic meal plan option or an unhealthy last minute takeout… that’s when we thought, wouldn’t it be amazing if could more people take advantage of this service? A very economical personal chef who comes home to cook your favorite dish, ”says Arora.

Launched in May last year with two chefs, HeyChef accepts reservations through its website, where customers can select a single service or a recurring weekly package. Depending on the package they choose, they can choose an appropriate day and time for the chef to come to their home to prepare the meals.

Mr. Arora and Ms. Kalvade tap into a burgeoning food technology market, which is expected to grow by more than 55% to $ 342 billion in 2027, from $ 220.3 billion in 2019, according to the latest research from the market and consumer data company Statista. Technological advancements within the global food industry along with a growing demand for healthier, cheaper and safer food products are driving the growth of the market.

Discounts and cash on delivery options are further driving adoption, especially in emerging economies, which industry experts say has accelerated the growth of the food technology market.

With HeyChef, the personal chef experience is no longer just for the elite, says Ms. Kalvade, 32, an investment banker in Dubai.

“Our goal is to bring hospitality to your door … HeyChef makes it accessible to everyone. Whether it’s your everyday meal, prep for the week or a party, our chefs are here to meet all of your home cooking needs. Our goal remains to serve our customers, ”she says.

HeyChef has a team of 11 full-time employees, including six chefs whose repertoire includes Thai, South Asian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Japanese and Chinese cuisine.

The self-funded start-up has grown in recent months, but its founders say it has been affected by the pandemic, which has shaken businesses around the world.

“We started planning HeyChef around October-November 2019 and started taking the necessary steps to establish a business in Dubai. At this point, we had no idea or even anticipated that we were all going through a pandemic, ”said Mr. Arora.

He and Ms Kalvade had decided to launch the service in March of last year.

“We had planned to launch with five chefs, but we were forced to go ahead with only two,” he said.

But demand for HeyChef’s services picked up once movement restrictions were relaxed.

“In a way, the pandemic has helped us as well… since a lot of people weren’t going out to dinner, they wouldn’t mind a chef coming to their house to provide a safe dining experience,” Mr. Arora said. .

“In November of last year, we added two more chefs and we currently have six trained chefs, with plans to bring more on board over the next few months.”

The personal chef business has flourished globally over the past nine months. While there are fewer restrictions related to the pandemic, many customers still prefer not to dine in crowded places and choose to invite home chefs to cook meals of their choice.

With reduced menus, social distancing rules, fewer tables, and staff wearing masks and gloves, the dining experience is vastly different from pre-pandemic days. This has helped people choose the comfort of their own homes, with guests and restaurant-quality cuisine on special occasions.

“For guests who wish to celebrate special days like birthdays or anniversaries at home, a four or five course meal prepared by a trained personal chef can do the magic,” says Ms. Kalvade.

HeyChef now plans to raise funds from investors to fuel its growth and expand into new markets.

The start-up, which currently only caters to the UAE market, is looking to expand its presence in other Gulf countries and the wider Middle East region.

“It is still very early to comment on this,” Arora said of the timing of a possible fundraising round. “If we are looking to raise capital, we will focus on expanding our services to other markets as well as improving the customer experience through technological advancements on the website. “

Since its launch, HeyChef has served over 500 customers in Dubai and made over 3,000 reservations. He charges 130 Dh per hour for the holidays and from 65 Dh per hour for the recurring services of his customers.

The founders of the start-up have not yet focused on profitability as they intend to develop the business further.

The food technology market is expected to grow by more than 55% to reach $ 342 billion in 2027, from $ 220.3 billion in 2019


“Our main priority is to grow the business to ensure a sustainable future… profitability is not on our minds as we believe it will follow on its own if we have all the right things in place,” said Mr. Arora.

“However, we have seen a demand for this type of service and it has the potential to grow dramatically as more and more people become more familiar with the service, which is a positive sign for us.”

There is also no business exit plan as the founders intend to build a long term business with a solid foundation.

“We take each step very carefully. We want to make HeyChef a long-term player with the potential to positively disrupt the food technology industry in the region, ”said Mr. Arora.

Q&A: HeyChef co-founders Pranav Arora and Mugdha Kalvade

How would you define HeyChef?

Ms. Kalvade: HeyChef makes everyday food a lot more exciting and less of a chore. It’s homemade food at your fingertips with full control over menu, ingredients, taste and portion. It gives you the chance to enjoy the best meal, prepared by professional chefs, without leaving the comfort of your home or worrying about the safety of your surroundings.

What is your mantra for success?

Mr Arora: No courage, no glory. I have always loved this saying and try to implement it in my daily life. You should never hesitate to think big and think outside the box. Especially when you are an entrepreneur, it is okay to follow your intuition, regardless of the outcome.

What is your vision of the start-up?

Mr. Arora: We are here to stay in the long term and enter new markets with a more diversified portfolio of offerings. Our vision since the creation of the start-up is to bring the best welcome to everyone’s door. At the same time, we make sure that the hiring of a personal chef is also within the limits of customers on a low budget.

What are your hiring plans?

Mr. Arora: We are currently a team of 11 full-time employees. As our business grows, we look to hire more chefs, as well as operational support staff, as well as drivers.

Where do you see HeyChef in 10 years?

Mr. Arora: I’m the type to go with the flow, so I prefer to take things as they come and give them my best. However, we hope that HeyChef will continue to gain ground and can evolve according to the changing needs of the market and consumers. We see our company emerging as one of the most disruptive start-ups in the food technology industry.

Are you an entrepreneur who takes risks?

Mr. Arora: I take moderate risks… I always do my math in advance to make sure there is a Plan B and that things are always covered in an emergency.

If there is one thing you could change in your entrepreneurial journey, what would it be?

Ms. Kalvade: Nothing yet. So far, our entrepreneurial journey has been quite satisfactory. Things fell into place according to our strategy and our initial planning.

Company Profile

Company name: HeyChef

Start: May 2020

Founders: Pranav Arora and Mugdha Kalvade

Based: Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Industry: Food technology

Investors: Self-financed

Update: November 7, 2021, 4:30 a.m.

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