A new culinary solution is on the horizon for homebound senior citizens in north Houston, courtesy of Houston-native chef Shonah Jefferson and French pastry chef and chocolatier Laurent Vals through Madison, Wisconsin-based private chef service Chefs For Seniors.
“The concept of providing in-home services to seniors, to me, was just a great way to do well by doing good,” Jefferson said.
As the first two franchise owners in Houston, Jefferson and Vals are starting small — Jefferson will be available for seniors in Atascocita, Humble, Kingwood, Spring, Porter, Oak Ridge North and the eastern edge of The Woodlands and Vals will head up operations in the rest of The Woodlands, Conroe, Egypt and Shenandoah.
It’s a service for which the customer base will only grow as Baby Boomers continue to age, Jefferson said. Founded in Madison, Wisconsin, in 2013 by Nathan Allman and his father, Barrett, a 30-year veteran of the restaurant industry, Chefs For Seniors quickly reached a point of popularity in the diverse, heavily populated capital city that required a staff expansion as well as the beginning of corporate operations in Illinois and Florida.
In 2017, the Allmans opened the business up to franchisees in an effort to expand the company’s message to markets they were unable to reach previously.
“We felt it was really important to have local owners,” Allman said. “So much of what our service is is human-to-human interaction.”
The service is a simple one — starting from $125 per appointment, Chefs For Seniors does it all, from grocery shopping to preparing a week’s worth of meals in customers’ kitchens catered to their own preferences and needs.
Malnutrition is a common problem among older adults, but the malady does not just affect those who suffer from chronic conditions, supressed appeitite and slowing metabolisms — for some, malnutrition stems from limited access to healthy food. Jefferson and Vals actively work with the Harris County Area Agency on Aging, the Houston-Galveston Area Agency on Aging and local offices of Texas Health and Human Services to tap into the market of caregivers in the community who might be looking for such a service for their aging loved ones.
“Seniors in north Houston aren’t different than seniors anywhere else in the country where we have franchises,” Jefferson said. “The need is there and it’s a universal need.”
Jefferson’s career in food dates back to her childhood — the University of Texas alumna’s father is the owner of East Houston mainstay Jeff’s Kitchen, and during a stint in Savannah, Georgia, she honed her skills with private chef lessons, rekindling her love for cooking. Vals’ culinary career began in the kitchens of Paris, where he specialized in pastries and chocolate, before eventually moving around the United States and landing in The Woodlands in July.
“Once you start developing a taste for self-employment, it doesn’t go away,” Vals said.
Besides the healthy, custom-made meal plans prepared weekly by Jefferson and Vals, Chefs For Seniors provides companionship to customers who may be isolated. By building relationships with their clients, the chefs can often become a welcome part of their weekly routine.
The companionship aspect was a by-product of the service Allman didn’t notice in the company’s early days, he said. One of his first customers once asked why they didn’t interact in their visits.
“She said, ‘Well, what, you don’t talk?’” Allman said. “This service really helps bring some life back into their kitchens.”
As the only two Chefs For Seniors franchise owners in Houston, Jefferson and Vals are looking to carry on the company’s legacy into a new market. That shouldn’t be a problem, Allman said. He and his father look at one major qualification in evaluating potential franchisees.
“We’re not looking for world-class chefs, we’re not even looking for decades of experience,” Allman said. “What we’re looking for are folks who have a heart — people who are good people.”
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