Rutgers alumnus, entrepreneur opens catering company
It was a happy new year for a Rutgers alumnus as he opened his own food venture earlier this year.
Chutney Chefs is a catering company that delivers pre-prepared meals to homes the day they are ordered, where customers can cook the authentic Indian food themselves.
Akhil Shah, a 24-year old Rutgers Business School alumnus and founder of Chutney Chefs, said he got the idea to start his venture during the summer of last year, when his mother cooked Indian food for him when he would come home from work.
“Indian food is tough to cook,” he said.
He knew his mother would not be around to cook his dinner forever, so he took matters into his hands by learning to cook Indian food.
While working for the catering business 5ive Chefs during his time at Rutgers, he approached his superiors with the idea for Chutney Chefs and believed it would be a different option from Indian restaurants.
“(I was) going for a home feeling to (my) food business,” he said.
Although Chutney Chefs specializes in Indian food, the business does not exclusively target the Indian community. He said he noticed there was a market outside the Indian community for Indian restaurants in New Jersey and New York.
“I wanted to connect with the audience that’s not Indian,” he said.
He thought of the name Chutney Chefs because it seemed to resonate with every Indian food enthusiast. Chutney derives from a well-known dipping sauce and can be found at every Indian restaurant, he said.
Although he is the sole proprietor of Chutney Chefs, there are others that help his business deliver the food to many at home.
Shalini Kumar, a member of the 5ive Chefs family, works with Shah to come up with strategies on promotions, pricing and packaging.
Her family started 5ive Chefs about nine years ago and has been working with them for more than seven years, she said.
“He’s been pretty good with making decisions,” she said. “I just try to give him feedback on certain ideas.”
Kumar knows about the food industry because she and her family have a restaurant, Spice Zone, in Edison. They take notice of what their customers like to see and then help implement that into the Chutney Chefs product, which is structured for homemaking, she said.
Their work-relationship has been nothing short of satisfactory for their business outlooks, Kumar said.
“It’s been great (working with Shah),” she said. “I can see the drive he’s had for (his) concept and his ability to work through problems is really refreshing to see.”
Since the idea of Chutney Chefs was designed specifically for homemade cooking, there are times when the business presents its highs and lows. Due to Shah’s hard work and desire, it has really translated well to working those issues out, she said.
Kumar believes this innovative idea will eventually reach more people outside their current market.
“I really see this being a household name for fresh Indian food for millions of people in the Northeast,” she said. “I think as times (pass), people (will) see the value of this and hopefully they continue to do so."
Chutney Chef customer Manny Martinez said he has been enjoying the food for the past eight months. His experience has been positive and the meals have been easy to cook.
Martinez enjoys that the food is delivered fast and always arrives fresh and believes the business has room to expand, he said.
“I think the business will continue to grow because the product is high quality and affordable,” he said. “Indian food is really popular and there are a lot of places in the (United States) that could benefit from Chutney Chefs.”
Martinez said he is excited to be a returning customer for Chutney Chefs because he thinks it is some of the best Indian food he has ever eaten.
Shah strives to change how people are eating. He said he wants to supply people with busy lifestyles the ability to enjoy fresh Indian food from the comfort of their home. He uses everything in his arsenal, including social media, to help spread the word.
Currently they serve in 11 states, including within the tri-state area. Shah said he hopes to reach more states in the future.
Chutney Chefs will stay online for the foreseeable future because it gives the business the chance to reach more consumers. They plan to expand the current menu in February, he said.