John Aggrey recalls reading newspaper headlines last summer as federal COVID-relief payments were being handed out to many small business owners.
“Restaurants were being slammed and chefs were being displaced with no rescue capital in sight. Everyone else was getting rescue capital,” he said.
Many restaurants, particularly smaller mom-and-pop shops, closed permanently and others were cutting staff because of lower sales or COVID restrictions requiring a shorter supply of available seating.
Aggrey, who as the CEO of The Unicorn Group has had a front row seat to seeing how tech startups grow, questioned what he could do to help solve the problem. Enter DinDin. Aggrey created an online marketplace, which incorporated last August, to give a home to displaced chefs, and a reason for families to come sit down at the dinner table together.
Aggrey describes DinDin as a “dual marketplace.”
“We are basically empowering displaced chefs to cook their specialty meals out of ghost kitchens that do not have walk-in traffic. It has all the food permits, all the hygiene protocols of a commercial kitchen, just no walk-in traffic. We’re allowing these chefs to cook their specialty meals out of a ghost kitchen. We’re taking care of the friction of having a customer. We get them a new customer. We collect the payment. We send the food order to them. We box the meals,” he said.
Providing meals for DinDin still gives chefs the opportunity to run their own businesses or side hustles, Aggrey said. However, when they are cooking for DinDin, they have to follow a series of protocols, including only using ghost kitchen space and adhering to hygiene standards.
On the consumer side, the DinDin website allows customers to peruse a plethora of pre-made meal selections, with both family servings and individual meals available. There’s lemon garlic chicken from Chef Gail Hooks in Lorton, or steak fajitas from Chef Kyle Vermeulen in College Park, MD. For those who need a sweet tooth satisfied, Chef Dennis Stanley, of Chantel’s Bakery in Sterling, has a selection of his delectable desserts available for purchase, including his signature golden cake and dark chocolate mousse. DinDin allows customers to select from a variety of chefs in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, with an assortment of cuisine, or even by searching for certain dietary considerations, like vegan or gluten free.
“It’s like a virtual food court,” Aggrey said.
In addition to giving busy families the freedom of choice to accommodate all their family members’ tastes or dietary considerations, Aggrey is most proud of is the time it returns to families.
“It turns out that working parents with children want to be intentional about giving them quality meals. You want your time back,” he said. “I wish if there is a silver lining to COVID it’s that DinDin provides families the opportunity to sit down, build community, and connect with each other.”
For now, delivery is available only on Wednesdays and Sundays, with a $60 food ordering minimum. Thus, DinDin is not an on-demand food delivery company, differentiating itself from an UberEats or Doordash. Instead, DinDin encourages busy local families to think ahead to the following week, and order heat-and-serve meals that can meet their family’s needs. They also recently launched a subscription service.
No matter where the chefs’ kitchens are located, all selected meals are curated in one box, and delivered together. A local business and friend of Aggrey’s quickly stepped up to solve the new company’s delivery dilemma. Upon discussing his idea with Reston Limousine CEO Kristina Bouweiri, Aggrey’s friend was quick to offer her company’s services.
“Kristina is huge. She stepped in there right out of the gate. They give us that special touch and they know logistics and transportation like the back of their hand. Kristina is really committed to Din Din as a strategic business unit,” he said.
Bouweiri said she jumped at the chance to be involved shortly after Aggrey asked her to be on DinDin’s advisory board. Serving as DinDin’s exclusive delivery partner helps her company as well, giving work to her drivers and becoming yet another prominent sector of her business, she said. As business grows, she has committed to leasing more cars for DinDin deliveries if needed.
“I am just so thrilled that that opportunity landed on my lap,” she said.
Currently, DinDin delivers to the entire Rt. 7 corridor, as far west as Leesburg, and the Washington, DC, metro area, including parts of Maryland. Aggrey said he expects to expand their delivery radius as more chefs and ghost kitchens come onboard.
The Montgomery County, MD, resident said he does not expect DinDin’s business to subside, even with COVID restrictions going by the wayside and restaurants fully reopening to customers. Feedback from the public has been extremely positive, and already the company has attracted more than 1,200 customers, Aggrey added. And, with the world reopening, life for busy families and executives will only get busier, necessitating a service like DinDin to fill in the gaps on those hectic weeknights.
Aggrey said he only sees his business expanding, and is looking to eventually add a farmers market concept to DinDin, featuring locally-made products, to further stimulate entrepreneurship. He is also excited about the rise of the meal prep industry, and said the DC region could become a Silicon Valley of sorts for the industry.
“We could play our cards right and be the epicenter of the meal prep industry in the country. The territory is here, the hungry are here, DinDin is here, and there are a few others that are cropping up. A lot of meal prep juggernauts are emanating out of this market. You’re going to have folks coming from other parts of the country into our orbit. That’s an interesting phenomenon,” he said.
For more information on DinDin, go to eatdindin.com.