Primed for Disruption: The Chef Local Launch

This is going to sound like a blatant flex, but our team scored a huge win in the midst of COVID and the truth is, we’re pretty pumped about it. Chef Local went from cool concept to revenue-generating business in 8 weeks. Before we explain what Chef Local is, allow us to introduce the guy who started it all: Chris Parasiuk.

Long before Chris joined the Hook + Ladder team, his Red Seal Chef credentials saw him cooking for swanky dinner parties on a river barge in Paris, head-cheffing in restaurants in Montreal — basically experiencing things he only dreamed of when he was a kid washing dishes in a Calgary restaurant back in the day. Fast-forward ten-odd years and 2 kids later, chef life wasn’t very conducive to Dad life, and Chris made the move to marketing.

You never forget your first love, though. From creating spectacular meals for family and friends to curating his personal dining experience portfolio, culinary connoisseur has remained an integral part of Chris’ identity. And, since he has the level of  entrepreneurial drive that keeps people up at night, Chris knew the coronavirus crisis was the kind of disruption where opportunities are hidden within the chaos.

Chris with the owners of Restaurant Manitoba, circa 2014.

Like Skip with a Twist

There was something about exquisite food in take-away containers that always rubbed Chris the wrong way. “You’re not going to feel comfortable paying thirty bucks a plate, having it stuck into a box and it’s completely fallen apart by the time it gets to your house”. So when all the restaurants in the city closed and delivery apps became a way of life, it was time to propose a new approach to eating at home: master cooking class meets meal kit for two, provided and curated by your favourite local chef. 

Serendipitously, Hook + Ladder was in idea-generating mode at the same time. Chris pitched his concept and received not only the greenlight from the team, but full access to available resources as well. Very quickly, things started falling into place and the vision came into sharper focus. “A lot of new ideas — when they start without a super-clear vision — end up branching off in all different directions and getting confused…with (Chef Local), every new development just made this thing laser-focused and clear,” Chris recalls.

With H+L behind him, it was time to get buy-in from the key players – local chefs and the restaurants they own or run. Local chefs were imperative because Chris wanted to ensure the platform helped the audience realize the most insightful and informed authority on cooking with local ingredients is a chef in their own city rather than a celebrity chef from a network show. He pointed out that “local ingredients in Calgary and the local ingredients in Vancouver or Montreal are not the same. When the chef says, I got this Lettuce from Deep Water Farms – you can say, I know where that is – it’s right around the corner from my house.”

Chris’ experience meant he knew exactly how to pitch to this crowd. He knew running a kitchen is busy, hectic and doesn’t allow for passion projects that don’t directly impact the bottom line. “The beauty of this is that it’s not overly burdensome,” Chris explains. “And it’s a product that allows for a predictable and profitable revenue stream for a restaurant.”
The restaurant community is tight-knit, so once Chris started reaching out, things happened fast. “There’s only one to two degrees of separation between my immediate contacts and the top talent in the city.” Market and Jane Bond BBQ were the first two restaurants to partner with Chef Local, and marketing efforts kicked off.

Next Step: Marketing a Lean Startup

When asked which digital marketing tools had the most impact on Chef Local’s success, Chris didn’t hesitate for a second: “Email and content. Hands down.”

The pilot program restaurant partners were abundant in a valuable resource: customer email addresses. What makes this seemingly innocuous contact information so valuable? It gives any campaign a huge head start. “The toughest, most expensive part of the sales funnel is behind you when you get to start with a community that has already put their hand up and said yes, I want to hear from you,” Chris explains.

Email marketing is often underestimated, but year-over-year, this pillar of digital marketing clinches the top spot in terms of marketing ROI. “Not that many businesses do email marketing,” Chris goes on to say. “The key to using email marketing — and doing it well — is engaging with your email list and not letting the conversation go cold. When someone says they want to hear from you by giving you their email, you need to show up and provide value. Welcome them, thank them, let them know what to expect and then deliver.”

Healthy email lists allowed this burgeoning startup to gain awareness within its ideal target audience without spending a dime on Facebook or Google Ads.  “The beauty of email marketing is once people sign up, you don’t have to pay to talk to them again.”

Naturally, building this startup meant creating a website and profiles on Facebook and Instagram. Enter success factor number two: jaw-dropping visual content. Chris teamed up with OG Hook + Ladder creator Eli Clark to produce both promotional assets as well as the cooking tutorial videos that are a key component of Chef Local’s unique offering.

“Eli is very gifted and very passionate about food projects,” says Chris. “He’s a natural. He listened to my vision and executed it perfectly.” The pair worked together to carefully plan the shoots. “The name, Chef Local isn’t trying to be clever or trendy – it’s literal. The videos bring a local chef into your kitchen to teach you how to recreate their incredible, signature dishes,” he went on to explain. “We were very intentional throughout production to make sure the videos communicated both the technique and the personality of each chef.”

The results were pretty great, to say the least.

Check out Eli’s foodie account, @eli.eats247 on Instagram for more delectable photos and videos!

While email marketing and great content stoked a small flame into a bonfire, Chris wanted to say a special thanks to the #hlfam for their support. “The number one resource that made this thing real was the belief and encouragement from the team. 100 percent.” The pleasure was all ours, Chris. We’re so proud!

What’s Next for Chef Local?

Chris didn’t want to give away too much in terms of plans-in-the-works, but he did mention, “every city. And then the world.” We don’t have a single doubt — he’s a helluva go-getter, that Chris. In all seriousness, though, the driving force behind Chris’ plans for Chef Local is his desire to put local chefs in the spotlight. “Chef-directed content, collaborations between chefs with extended courses and new content each week – the possibilities are limitless at this point.” Chris goes on to say, “The platform is an opportunity for local chefs to achieve a certain level of celebrity in their city. As the audience engages with the platform, I see them having an important role in determining what the future looks like.”

If you’re looking for a new date night idea or you’d like to break your delivery app addiction while you hone your culinary skills, head over to Chef Local and check out what’s cookin’ this week from Market and Jane Bond BBQ.

Keep an eye on Chef Local via Facebook and Instagram for special promos and new restaurant partners.

Coming soon: Deane House!

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