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JChef offers kosher meal kits for the busy consumer

Operating out of South Florida, JChef is certified by Kosher Miami, the rabbinical council that oversees all major kosher establishments in the area

For the hard-pressed businessperson, busy parent, college student or overall inexperienced chef, the emergence of ready-to-go meal-kit delivery services were a godsend. Instead of hassling over difficult recipes or long trips to the grocery store, companies like HelloFresh and Blue Apron were doing most of the work, leaving customers with fun, evenly portioned meals requiring little to no effort. 

But while such services accounted for a wide range of consumers, including people who adhered to vegetarian, paleo and healthy diets, there was one community they largely overlooked: kosher diners.

Queue in Gabriel Saul, founder of JChef, which offers a rotating weekly menu of kosher meals to choose from in a variety of plan sizes. Saul, 40, who himself keeps kosher, saw that there was nothing available for observant Jews and looked to fill the gap. In the last two years Saul and COO Allen Rabinovich worked to expand upon JChef’s goal of bringing quality, hassle-free kosher food to Jewish families across the country, including through the establishment of an online kosher meat store, which opened at the end of January.

“I just felt like the entire kosher market was basically being ignored,” Saul told Jewish Insider last month. “I wanted to create something that was a good mix of what some of those companies do, but obviously totally certified kosher.”

Operating out of South Florida, JChef is certified by Kosher Miami, the rabbinical council that oversees all major kosher establishments in the area. 

“I basically had to pitch all of the owners of Kosher Miami, all of the head rabbis, and make them understand what the business was, which was not easy,” Saul said. “Honestly, in just a little bit of time, I was able to convince them [of] the need…it was a mixture of trust and explaining the actual meal kit industry, what it is, and doing things the right way.”

As an extra precaution, JChef only uses products with widely accepted hechshers, or certification symbols, and does not serve dairy in order to avoid potential spillage despite being given the go-ahead by the Rabbanut. All of JChef’s food is watched over by a mashgiach who certifies that the meals adhere to the laws of kashrut, but as the company begins adding new produce-heavy menu items that require more washing and supervision, they will be adding additional mashgichim to the payroll.

JChef

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people tell me like, ‘I can’t believe I found you guys. I used to have to drive two hours, there’s no kosher restaurant or grocery store anywhere by where I live,’” Saul recounted.

Early in its creation, JChef collaborated with a handful of Jewish kosher celebrity chefs whose recipes would sporadically become available as meal options to JChef subscribers. When those partnerships proved less budget-friendly, the company moved away from the format to instead focus on enhancing its overall functioning, including the launch of its long-awaited online meat store.

“A lot of our customers are typically located in places where they have access to regular supermarkets, obviously, but the kosher meat options at those said supermarkets are not the best,” Rabinovich, 32, told JI ahead of the store’s opening last month. “Our customers order from us, obviously because the recipes themselves are really nice and the produce and everything, but for some of our customers the meat is the most important piece, and the fact that they can consistently get great meat from us is why they’ve been with us for so long. And so we want to create that standalone offering for possibly new customers that aren’t interested in necessarily cooking our recipes, but just want the meat.”

Even before launching the meat store, Saul toyed with the idea of expanding JChef’s capabilities beyond meal kits to include a full-scale kosher market that customers could purchase directly from. While he has no interest in transitioning into a brick-and-mortar store, he’s working to secure partnerships that would broaden the new online store’s offerings to include additional products such as wine, breads, challah, desserts and other snacks — though dairy products will remain unavailable.

“In the longer run, we definitely see JChef as a kosher brand,” Saul said. “We’re a meal kit right now, but, just based on the logistics alone, the way we can help is we can help bring pretty much anything kosher to anywhere in the U.S.”

Keeping JChef affordable has always been important to Saul. While the price for other, non-kosher meal-kit services range from around $45 to $75, JChef is one of the most expensive on the market, with a starting price of $80 per week. Still, taking into account the added costs, requirements and certifications, as kosher options, specifically kosher meat options go, it’s quite reasonable. 

“I literally just had a conversation with a customer the other day, who was in Dade City, Fla., and he literally said he tried to purchase our recipes on his own, and he just couldn’t get to the price that he was already paying for us,” Saul recalled. The company lowered prices at the start of the new year after switching to a new, fully recyclable insulation material and removing shipping fees (packages are sent out late Monday afternoon and typically arrive Wednesday morning, though overnight shipping is still available for purchase).

“We actually reduced, I would say on average, each customer saves probably around $30 – $40 [more] than they used to,” Saul said. “We’re trying to reduce costs rather than increase prices to cover ourselves.” JChef currently delivers nationwide, except for Alaska and Hawaii. 

JChef consists of a rotating weekly menu that features two options for every protein they offer — two chicken-based recipes, two veggie recipes, two ground beef recipes, two fish recipes, etc. In the near future they’re hoping to add a fixed classics menu of popular recipes that customers can choose from if they’d prefer to repeat one or two meals rather than follow the schedule. Saul and Rabinovich are working to enhance/diversify JChef’s menu offerings to include both more options in general, but also more options for those with specific dietary needs.

“That’s a big initiative for us, for Q1 this year is to just increase the total number of options per week,” Rabinovich said. “We want folks to feel like there’s variety…So those are sort of on the recipe front, something that we want to do is sort of create a recurring classics section plus having at least 10 options that rotate including X number of veggie, X number of possibly like keto-friendly, paleo, things like that, where folks can choose stuff based on their diet plan.”

For any issues that arise, customers with questions or concerns can easily reach Saul through the JChef site’s chatbox, which he personally mans himself 24/7 — or 24/6 rather, in observance of Shabbat. It’s almost unheard of these days for a business’s messaging feature to immediately connect you with an actual person, let alone the company’s founder, without any amount of preliminary AI, but it was important to Saul that he be there for his customers at all times.

“I knew there was gonna be a heavy learning curve [because of how new meal kits are to the kosher market],” he said. “And to be quite honest, one of the things I can’t stand is not being able to get problems resolved. So, as long as I can, I’m going to keep doing it, because I want to be able to resolve problems in a snap. I know what I can do, what I can’t do, what’s fair, what’s not fair, and I always, if somebody’s not happy for whatever reason, which is rare, I will do everything I can to make it right.”

“Honestly, I’ve found it to be extremely helpful. It’s not even just for new customers or people that have been around for years, if they ever have a question about a new recipe, or, I even have people chatting me on how to cook it…So I think the customers appreciate it. Obviously, it’s time consuming, but we want the customer [to be] happy. We want them to stay on and be a part of the family,” Saul added.

Presently, JChef sends out around 100 meal kits per week with another couple hundred subscriptions that are on hold, and activated once or twice a month. He and Rabinovich have a number of bonus incentivization and contest ideas in the works to grab new clientele and keep their current roster coming back.

“I love the meal-kit industry. I see so much potential, not only in terms of the actual taste of the food, it’s actually fun,” Saul said. “I get customers showing me videos of them cooking with their, you know, 8-, 9-, 10-, 11-, 12-year-old kids, and they tell me how much fun it was. So I definitely see a lot of the reasons behind the entire meal kit industry, and I do believe in it personally. And when I talk to these customers and they give me feedback like that, it really does make a difference for me.”

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