If you’re driving on any of the freeways in the Tri-State area, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a Chefs’ Warehouse truck (or two, or seven). They’re freeway regulars, hauling premium meat, seafood, dairy, and produce to restaurants across the country, including our Hungry Corner of the Woods. Except now they could drive to a house near you.
Chefs’ warehouse, started by the Pappas brothers in the Bronx more than 30 years ago, will continue to count high-end restaurants run by chefs as its main activity. But as soon as COVID-19 restrictions hit, they stepped up their #shoplikeachef home delivery option. And it’s not a pious hashtag. You are buying a product that would otherwise go to a restaurant. The only downside: a $ 35 delivery charge (unless you order more than $ 250), slightly larger portions (this is ordering for a month, not a weekend), and slightly limited delivery: currently you can get deliveries to the chefs warehouse in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Mercer, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset and Union counties.
To learn more about how it works, we caught up with Chef ‘Warehouse Category Development Director John Magazino, who has overseen the transition since its inception.
Table jump: Is selling to consumers a first for Chefs’ Warehouse?
John Magazino: In fact, we have been selling to consumers for many years. We have a website where consumers can order from us. It has been a smaller part of our business. Usually, they buy premium specialty products. Great steaks and meats. Truffles and caviar. But our goal has always been to work with the best restaurants, hotels and country clubs in the country. The first week of March we started to see some restaurant closures. And we immediately made a pivot.
E: What did this pivot consist of?
JM: We had a lot to consider. The safety of our team – that we would be able to deliver food faithfully and ensure that we were doing everything in accordance with food safety. We started the pivot around the first week of March. COVID has had an impact on the Northeast. It was not easy. We were a $ 2 billion company. To make a sudden turn, more than 1,000 trucks used to deliver to restaurants in major cities, mainly, will now do door-to-door deliveries to the aisles? It was quite a challenge. But we did it quickly.
E: Has there been a big change in terms of logistics?
JM: This involved setting up individual websites in each region where we operate. Previously we had only one central website that served the entire United States and all consumer purchases were handled by UPS or FedEx. But we did. Other home grocery delivery services struggle to schedule people within two or three weeks. With services like Fresh Direct and PeaPod, turnaround times are two to three weeks. Some don’t even take orders. We ship to New Jersey and the New York metro area in one to three days, approximately 2,000 orders per day.
E: And what about the product itself?
JM: Almost everything you order from our site is a product that would be served in the best restaurants in the country. The quality of the seafood, the quality of the meat, there is no better quality. These are the exact products you would get at the best restaurants in New Jersey and New York.
E: What about the supply chain? With recent news like Smithfield COVID shutdown, we fear more than ever that the main suppliers are affected.
JM: I read the Smithfield story and it’s unfortunateâ¦ We haven’t experienced any disruption in any of our supply chains. And we don’t foresee any problems. The producers that Chefs’ Warehouse works with are very high end producers, smaller, and I think a little more conscientious and focused on health practices and standards. Smithfield, I mean, I read that there were 250 people working shoulder to shoulder on a line. We knew immediately that there was a separation, even in our workplace.
E: Because your delivery is regionalised, does that mean New Jersey shoppers are going to get more local produce?
JM: Our chickens are amazing. They are from Pennsylvania. They’re all hormone-free, antibiotic-free, within 150 miles of our warehouse. Things like our calamari come from Rhode Island. We have Vermont butter. So we try to keep things as much as possible in the Northeast. We absolutely have New Jersey products. The season has not yet started. But New Jersey tomatoes, blueberries and asparagus will be on site.
E: Considering the high caliber vibe I guess you need to order a minimum?
JM: In fact, there is no minimum. It’s $ 35 shipping for orders under $ 250. For this, you benefit from contactless delivery. I had a delivery to my home today in Connecticut. They will go up and unload everything in certain areas, if it’s visible, a good place to put it, like the porch or near the front door. Or they’ll ring your doorbell and back 25 feet, wait for you to come to the door and ask where you’d like them to put it. You have already paid for it and there is nothing to sign.
E: What about in bulk? Ordered quantity ?
JM: Our main customers are restaurants, hotels, country clubs. So things are packaged in larger sizes than what most families would normally see in a grocery store. Having said that, things like products are packaged to be suitable for the family. We have put together a number of protein and seafood boxes that are also suitable for families. Some of the burgers are [packs] 20 or 40. That’s enough for the family! Another thing we see people doing, singles teaming up with friends or neighbors. “Hey, I have an order coming in, the truck can get here tomorrow.” Do you want to divide it? “
We’re also seeing a big movement of people doing a lot more cooking at home, things they’ve never tried before. People are baking bread like never before. So at first no one was going to buy 50 pounds of flour. People say, âI bake loaves of bread at a time, bake pizza, and donate bread to families and local charities. So people go through the sizes of restaurant quantities pretty quickly, which is amazing to us. People are trying to be more resourceful. But we’re just happy at this point to do a public service to provide food to people, to keep them out of stores. No one wants to walk into a supermarket right now.
E: What about these luxury items?
JM: We are really trying to get the items that we know people need into their homes. But we still have caviar available. Some people call and ask that, having a bit of the ‘end of the world’ thing. But more importantly, we want to make sure people get the things they need to feed their families.
E: Have you also started a charity initiative?
JM: As many people affected by the loss of employment or income. So for every order placed online across the country, we give 10% to frontline workers. We haven’t chosen a charity yet, but we are putting funds aside for each transaction.
You can order from Chefs’ Warehouse here. Make sure you allow up to three days for your order to arrive.
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