Until the corona crisis broke out, 55-year-old Ernens had a booking office where companies or event organizers could book a star chef to give a demonstration cooking class.
The government measures during the months of March, April and May quickly put this on the back burner.
The Hague entrepreneur had double bad luck: she fell off her bike at the end of April and ended up in bed for six weeks with a concussion and broken ribs. “I missed eating out, but could only order pizza.” Out of that annoyance Ernen’s new company was born: Star Chef Box.
She called the chefs she already knew from her previous company. “Can you make a box for people who want to eat out, but cannot or do not want to,” she asked them.
There was great enthusiasm. Ernens teamed up with four chefs: Paul Kappé from Monarh in Tilburg, Ronald van Roon from Calla’s in The Hague, Rutger van der Weel from Katseveer in Wilhelminadorp and Eric van Bochove from ‘t Vlasbloemeken in Koewacht.
The fact that she doesn’t work with more chefs is ‘to make it not too complicated’. Because the menus change regularly, there is plenty to choose from, according to her.
She has a tight schedule to ensure that meals are delivered on time. You can order until Wednesday, the chefs then have Thursday to buy and Friday to cook. The meal will be delivered on Saturday.
Good for brand awareness
The chefs who participate are enthusiastic. “People in Groningen now enjoy the cooking skills of a chef from Zeeland, their brand awareness is growing”, Ernens hears from them.
She started the first trial at the end of May, and there was immediate interest. But in recent months, her business really started to thrive, thanks to stricter government measures. “We suddenly got a group of customers,” says Ernens about the moment when the catering industry had to close again.
“Since then there has not been a quiet week and in the run-up to Christmas it was quite a storm,” she says. The Christmas menus of two of the four chefs were already sold out long before Christmas, and the menus of the other two were also very popular.
In November it sold about 1,450 menus at € 54.50 each, about half of which to companies. That resulted in a significant increase in turnover, says Ernens without wanting to give precise figures. “In June I was at 5000 and in September the turnover was already above 30,000 euros. Still quite good, for something that starts,” she says about it.
She prefers not to say what she counts as a margin. “I don’t think the chefs want that. But the distribution is fine, I calculate different percentages than large sites.”
Market leader Thuisbezorgd charges a minimum of 25 percent commission for a meal that they also deliver themselves, says a spokesman.
Restaurants that deliver themselves pay at least 12 percent commission to Thuisbezorgd. Ernens is slightly above that, she continues. “But I also arrange everything for the restaurants, such as cardboard boxes and delivery.”
No matter how well it is now, she doesn’t know if she wants to continue, although she thinks the concept “is here to stay.” “I don’t want to do the same thing for 24 hours, I have other ideas,” she explains. Which they are, she still keeps to herself.
She may focus more on the old collaboration she had with the chefs: arranging bookings. For example, she organized a private dinner for four people last week.
“For two couples, of which the two men had a business together. Celebrating the retirement of one of them was a big deal,” says Ernens. Hiring a star chef can easily cost 1000 euros per half day, she says.
“A two-star chef? 1500 euros. And then a menu of 200 euros per person. And wines, which you can make as expensive and as cheap as you want”, Ernens sums up. And those who really want to go chic can also rent table linen and crockery. “You can rent plates for 5 euros each,” she gives as an example.
Ernens will already receive phone calls for bookings in 2021, but will hold off the boat for a while. “We don’t know how things are going, so let’s look further in mid-January,” she says. “The uncertainty is still so great, I’m not going to try so hard for that.”