When Maryland natives Clint and Jodi Roze founded Yes Chef!, a Baltimore-based meal delivery service, they had one overarching goal: give food a purpose.
After working in the culinary and hospitality industry for more than 30 years, the husband-and-wife duo were all too familiar with the intense pressure that comes with the restaurant environment. They decided that they wanted to create a business that would help them pursue their passion for serving people but on their own terms.
Clint and Jodi came up with Yes Chef!, a service that specializes in fully prepared meals made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients delivered to customers’ homes.
“We started doing it for our families and nearby friends to test the products and get feedback. We realized that it was a viable idea that helped make people’s lives easier,” says Jodi, 53.
“They don’t have to think about what they’re having for dinner or worry about portion control. It fit a lot of different needs,” says Clint, 51.
After seven months of testing, the couple launched Yes Chef! in November 2019 and rented a commercial kitchen space from Share Kitchen in Locust Point. Jodi directed the marketing, and Clint prepared the meals and planned the seasonal and weekly menus.
“The beginning was grueling,” Jodi says. “We started with eight to 10 customers, and we wouldn’t leave until midnight to 3 a.m. because we did everything: dish washing, delivering, cooking, purchasing … you name it.”
Fortunately, Clint and Jodi both had significant experience managing a business. Jodi worked as a manager, director and educator in the hospitality field and became a professor in the Center for Hospitality and Culinary Studies at Howard Community College in 2010. Clint is a certified executive chef, culinary administrator and former culinary college instructor who has worked at and managed many restaurants in the Maryland area.
Yes Chef! was open for only five months and had started event catering when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. While waiting for the world to start opening up again, the two researched tamper-proof packaging and began offering “café boxes” for breakfast and lunch.
“The boxes are bright and look classy, and all of the food is made fresh within hours of delivery. It’s packed and sealed in the kitchen, and it’s all delivered by us so that customers know that no one has touched their food,” Jodi explains.
Since 2019, the business has continued to grow at a comfortable pace. They’ve been able to take on wedding rehearsal dinners and once delivered to 300 Costco employees who were working overnight shifts.
“We’re having so much fun. We’ve only been married four years, and we love working together,” says Jodi. “I think that bringing totally different skill sets to the table really helps. We make deliveries together, and that’s often when we brainstorm and come up with new ideas.”
“Both of us are hospitality people, and we really embrace that. It’s about serving others. Even in our marriage, we think about the other person first rather than ourselves,” Clint says.
Yes Chef! now has 12 employees, most of whom lost their previous jobs due to the pandemic, nearly 300 customers in their database and 40 to 50 regular orders each week. Although requiring a subscription can be a smart move for a business of their type, they promised themselves that they would never go to a subscription-based model.
“It might be the right business thing to do, but it’s not the right people thing to do. People love our customer care and that they can do whatever fits with their needs,” says Clint.
In keeping with their goal to give food a purpose, Yes Chef! has launched many give-back programs including the Distance Learning Lunch Package. This lunch program serves kids who are learning at home so that their parents don’t have to worry about preparing lunches.
One of their biggest projects is the quarterly programs where people can nominate someone to receive a free meal.
“One thing that’s always been problematic in the restaurant world is the amount of food wasted. We would always take food to homeless people. Now with the campaigns, we’re also able to recognize people who are working hard in the community,” says Clint.
Previous campaigns focused on teachers, veterans and anyone who needed some love in the midst of a chaotic time. The business is currently spotlighting health care workers for its fourth campaign and plans to feature hospitality workers for its fifth.
“It’ll include restaurants, attractions and venues, basically anything that has to do with the hospitality industry. These people have been hit so hard, and they need some help from their own people,” says Jodi.
To further support the Baltimore community, Yes Chef! has worked to collaborate with other small businesses wherever they can. The Valentine’s Day package includes dinner, a dozen red roses by Flowers & Fancies, toffee from MFG Toffee, Mouth Party Caramels and hot chocolate bombs made in collaboration with Emily Uhlman, the 15-year-old owner of ButterWorks Bakery USA in Westminster, Maryland.
The couple hopes that the future will bring more partnerships with small businesses and opportunities to keep putting people before anything else.
“There’s a quote I love from the motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, ‘You can get anywhere you want in life if you help other people get where they want to go in life,’” says Clint. “We try to live by that.”