How an entrepreneur who couldn’t cook started a recipe business

by Ana Lopez

Unless you’re an avid food prepper, “what’s for dinner” is probably the phrase uttered every day in most households.

Ten years ago, Side Chef founder and CEO Kevin Yu wanted to make it easier to answer that question by creating an all-in-one cooking, shopping, and meal planning app. He later brought in Cadence Hardenbergh as co-founder and COO.

Recipe management is not a new concept in itself, and SideChef is one of a group of startups bringing technology to an industry where handwritten recipes kept in a folder or Rolodex is the norm. We’ve seen companies like Galley Solutions and Meez do it for restaurants, while Pestle, Whisk, Foody, and even Instacart make apps for consumers.

However, SideChef’s “secret sauce”, if you will, is the 12,000+ shoppable recipes that can be added to your cart and all of the ingredients required to make that recipe are provided or made available to purchase in-store. picked up at Walmart. There’s also a “create your own” feature so account holders can upload their own recipes and even share them publicly.

Cadence Hardenbergh Kevin Yu SideChef recipes app

SideChef co-founders Cadence Hardenbergh and Kevin Yu. Image Credits: Side Chef

The app is free to download and now has more than 20,000 “smart recipes” that users can filter by dietary preferences, ingredients you already have in your kitchen, or cooking time. There is a $4.99 monthly subscription that comes with a premium version featuring recipes from SideChef culinary experts.

Prior to founding the company, Yu was a video game developer for eight years, working with Warcraft and Blizzard. He admits he couldn’t cook at the time, but was curious if there was a step-by-step guide via an app that helped people cook. When SideChef launched in 2014, it was named ‘Best App of the Year for Google Play’.

“That was a really big validation for us,” Yu told businessupdates.org.

Then the company got its first seed round and built out its platform so that tablets, iPhone, Android and even smart home hubs can read the step-by-step cooking instructions. Yu described it as “the beginning of the journey where our mission is to empower everyone to cook.”

However, there was a point where he realized that monetizing recipe users was not the same as video game users: mainly people don’t go on the app and spend a ton of money buying recipes. So he started looking into business models and saw how online grocery, while still low in penetration, was becoming a trend.

“Our idea was to take the structured data we had, map all the ingredients and send lasagna to you with a single click,” Yu added. “We know everything they need, and the portion size, so we can match part of the grocery database to ship the right amount of pasta sauce or pasta.”

SideChef joined Instacart for grocery delivery around 2016, and also partnered with kitchen appliance manufacturers such as Sharp, GE, and LG Electronics.

Those new business models have paid off: The company doubled its revenue growth three years in a row, boosted in part by the global pandemic, as Yu said more people started cooking at home.

At the same time, the smart kitchen side led the company to the previously unannounced Series A with LG and now another $6 million in Series B funding. The Seed, Series A and Series B give SideChef a total of more than $16 million from institutional investors including Ideate Ventures, AB Electrolux, Peacock Capital Group, V-ZUG AG, Ilion Capital, Empower Investment, Innolead Investment, LG Technology Ventures and KZone LLC.

The new funding will enable SideChef to move into the next growth phase, which will include an end-to-end cooking platform supported by smart kitchen technologies such as image recognition devices to enable automated cooking and generate further revenue from the platform, including online shopping, contextual marketing and data insights.

“I believe we have the most structured recipe data format in the world,” said Yu. “What started as teaching myself how to cook became a kind of ‘Rosetta stone’ to connect the whole industry together.”

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