Atlanta startup helps busy families find their own chefs, raises $1M

Cookonnect, a company that places local chefs in family homes, was launched two years ago and recently raised expansion capital
Erica Tuggle, founder of Atlanta-based startup Cookonnect, which places local chefs in family homes. She recently raised $1 million for her business.

Credit: Mirtha Donastorg

Credit: Mirtha Donastorg

Erica Tuggle, founder of Atlanta-based startup Cookonnect, which places local chefs in family homes. She recently raised $1 million for her business.

Erica Tuggle knows how hard it can be to juggle a corporate career and motherhood and getting healthy foods on the table.

The Harvard-trained corporate executive said that struggle inspired her to launch her first business, a website that helps make hiring a private chef more accessible for families.

In early 2022, Tuggle launched Cookonnect, a startup that places local chefs in family homes. Two years later, she has raised a $1 million pre-seed round.

“Our service is really about helping people eat better, save their time so they can spend that time on things that matter most to them,” Tuggle told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We also focus on supporting our chefs and helping them build more lucrative and flexible culinary careers.”

Before becoming a first-time founder, Tuggle spent years working for food giants like General Mills and Coca-Cola. While leading food strategy for Coke, she had to juggle her career and wanting to provide homemade meals for her toddler and infant like her own mother. Cookonnect was born out of conversations Tuggle had with other working parents facing similar struggles.

In mid-2022, months after launching, Tuggle was accepted into the Techstars accelerator, which gave her about $120,000 in initial funding, training and a network of other founders. Techstars is supported by Cox Enterprises, which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Tuggle started raising her pre-seed funding last fall and was able to close the deal in December during a difficult funding environment. Los Angeles-based venture firm Slauson & Co., which has invested in startups like actress Issa Rae’s Sienna Naturals hair care brand, put up the full $1 million.

Hiring a private chef isn’t solely the domain of the rich. Tuggle believes her customers are people who are looking for convenient, healthy meal options but don’t want to sacrifice quality or time.

Shop, cook and clean

Crystal Mathis, 38, is a self-described foodie, but she is also a chief marketing officer for a wealth management company and mom of twin toddler boys, Caden and Cooper. Her husband Yeavis Mathis, 42, is a senior property claims adjuster for an insurance company.

As their lives got more hectic, they found themselves relying on delivery services like Uber Eats often, but it started to get “out of hand,” Crystal Mathis said.

“Last year, I started doing batch cooking on Sundays,” she said. “It would take me like five hours, and I would be exhausted because I’m cooking for the week and I’d be doing laundry at the same time.” Her husband would keep the boys occupied.

They tried Cookonnect one Sunday earlier this year and Crystal was able to play with her boys and not start the work week exhausted. They were sold.

Yeavis, Caden, Crystal and Cooper Mathis at their Marietta home on Sunday, April 14, 2024. The Mathises are clients of Cookonnect.

Credit: Mirtha Donastorg

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Credit: Mirtha Donastorg

Now, every Sunday, Chef Whitney Gray comes to their Marietta home to cook two meals for the family. They can typically portion out the meals for dinner for them and their toddlers Sunday through Thursday.

The Mathises estimate they have saved thousands using Cookonnect since they’ve cut down on delivery services and groceries. They pay $684 a month for Gray’s weekly service, which includes buying the ingredients for the meals, cooking and then cleaning up. It takes her about two hours start to finish and Caden and Cooper are now used to seeing “Chef Whitney” as they call her.

To book a chef, customers go online and can choose if they’d like two or four meals per person, which meals and any customizations.

“You have someone in your home, one of the big benefits is that they can make the meal however you need it for your family and for yourself,” Tuggle said. “And so, whether you’re gluten-free, vegan, whatever it might be, your kids don’t like peas touching carrots, like whatever it is, they’re able to accommodate that.”

Chefs are then notified of the job and can pick it up. But clients who have a subscription to Cookonnect, like the Mathises, can request the chef they want. The price ranges from $20 to $37 per meal, depending on if it is a one-off service or a package.

Though the meals are chosen from a set menu created by Cookonnect, Gray adds a bit of her own flavor to what she cooks through her homemade dried herbs and spices.

Whitney Gray, a personal chef for Cookonnect, prepares two meals for clients on Sunday, April 14, 2024.

Credit: Mirtha Donastorg

icon to expand image

Credit: Mirtha Donastorg

On a recent Sunday, Gray was cooking udon noodles with beef and vegetables and pan-seared chicken with a side of mashed sweet potatoes, zucchini and squash for the Mathises.

She has been working as a chef for 13 years in a variety of kitchens and was also a personal chef for the past two years. About four months ago she decided to apply to be on the Cookonnect platform, which has been “less stress” than trying to find gigs on her own.

“They take care of the clients, the recipes and all I really have to do is just shop for the food and show up,” Gray said.

To be hired by the company, chefs go through interviews, a background check and also need an up-to-date food safety certification. There are currently more than 30 chefs on the platform.

Tuggle sees Cookonnect’s competition as delivery services like Uber Eats and Grubhub as well as meal kits. There are also other companies that put private chefs in homes, like Dinner Elf and Culinistas, but neither are available in Georgia. Right now, Cookonnect serves a 38-mile radius from Atlanta’s city center, which includes suburbs like Johns Creek, Alpharetta, Marietta and Sandy Springs.

This year, Tuggle hopes to add more chefs to the platform, expand the Atlanta client base and then get ready to go to another market. She plans to use the $1 million she’s raised to expand marketing, hire an engineer for the backend of the website and bring on a head chef.

“By the end of 2024, we want to ... prove that there is absolutely demand and people are looking for some support and getting rid of the mental burden and daily question of, ‘What’s for dinner?’” she said.

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