The “Uber of catering” has arrived in Atlanta, thanks in part to an investment from R&B superstar Usher and his mother.
Jonnetta Patton, known for managing her famous son for more than a decade, started a “shared kitchen” in Doraville in 2016, allowing independent chefs to cook, try out recipes and receive business support from Patton and her staff.
Now, Patton is the first local partner for Hungry, an event catering service startup that launched in Atlanta this month. The business connects local chefs from Patton’s kitchen with companies that need catered spreads for lunches or other events.
In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Friday, Patton said she called Usher and asked him to invest in Hungry, which is based in Arlington, Virginia, and has already launched in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia.
“I did say to him, ‘You need to invest in this from the beginning because it’s going to be really big, and he trusted me,” Patton said.
Hungry’s celebrity investors also include hip hop mogul and entrepreneur Jay-Z and Tom Colicchio of “Top Chef” fame. It secured $8 million in initial funding.
The service already has a lineup of 20 Atlanta chefs who companies can recruit to cater events. Many cook out of Patton’s shared kitchen, which is called J’s Kitchen Culinary Incubator, while Hungry handles the delivery, setup and cleanup of the catering.
The Atlanta chefs who work with the startup offer a diverse array of options and cuisines, with the average meal price per person ranging from about $6 to $13. The minimum head count for an event is eight people; businesses can place orders and customize menus online.
Hungry CEO Jeff Grass said Atlanta has an “incredibly high level of chefs,” but “they’re sort of untapped. It’s hard for them to go into business.”
Patton said one of her favorite dishes is the salmon cooked by “Chef Juan,” who is listed on Hungry’s website as a “chef to the stars.”He was one of the first Hungry chefs to cater to a corporate office in Atlanta; the business loved his food so much that they now request him every time they have a catered event, Patton said.
What has Usher’s reaction been to his mother’s business partnering with the startup?
“He’s been calling me (saying), ‘Mom, this is looking really, really good. I’m really proud of you and what you’re doing,’” Patton said.
She and Grass pointed out that when Hungry approached her and asked her to be a partner, they did not know she was Usher’s mother.
Patton said her experience as a manager in the music industry has helped her as she assists independent chefs start their own businesses and brands. Musicians and cooks, she said, are similar.
“Artists are very creative. So are chefs,” she said. “They’re very passionate, but they need management. That’s where I come in with the business side of this incubator.”
Patton and Grass also see Hungry as a way to give back to the community. For every two meals sold through Hungry in Atlanta, the startup feeds one other person here in need.
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