On Running A Healthy Prepared Meals Delivery Service

Published: September 18th, 2019
Cyclone Covey
Founder, Christophe's
from Atlanta, Georgia, USA
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Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

My name is Cyclone Covey and I'm the chairman of Christophe’s, which is food preparation and delivery company. It is based in Duluth, Georgia, which is a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. Our primary service is online meal sales, production, and delivery. Our customers go online and pick the meals they want to order. We make the food and deliver it to them. All of the food is made in our central kitchen.

My business partner, Chef Christophe Le Metayer, is a French chef who has experience in the Buckhead Ritz Carlton, the Monte Carlo Hotel, where they did some of the famous James Bond scenes, and Michelin starred restaurants in Europe. He's a very accomplished chef, and all the other people working in the kitchen are chefs too. We try to bring a higher level of cuisine to the people who are ordering for delivery.

We don't ship our food nationwide. We don't believe that the food tastes as good or lasts if you ship it via FedEx or U.P.S. It just won't taste the same so currently our product is only local in Atlanta, Georgia.

We also do some catering and we're working on some other new projects, including Nødder Snacks, which is a snack line based on nuts and seeds. The idea behind this line is to incorporate cuisines and culinary techniques from different parts of the world in order to bring a different flavor profile than what people are normally used to with nuts. Currently, we're selling those on Amazon and online and we're working to get them into larger retail markets.

We also have a pastry business. You can buy the pastries on Christophe's website. We also have a wholesale division with a couple of French pastry chefs that are working in our kitchen called Art Pastries.

What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?

I was born into a family that was in the wholesale off salvage auto auction business. My grandpa, my grandfather on my mom's side, started a car auction business in the 1960s. And the basic idea was if you totaled your car, the insurance company paid you for the total loss and then they ended up with the car on their hands. It was wrecked, so what were they going to do with it? They would call our facility, we would pick the car up from the wrecker yard and bring it to our facility. We wouldn't do any work on it. We would just hold the car in our facility. We would do the title work that would change the titled owner from the original owner to the insurance company. And then once the title was changed over it had a salvage title brand. We would then auction the vehicle on consignment to parts dealers, rebuild, or scrappers depending on the type of car. The money would go back to the insurance company minus a fee. My grandfather started that business in the 60s. When I was born my grandfather and my father was working in that business together. My mom joined the business and then in the 80s, he sold the business to my parents. And so I get to watch my parents run an enterprise that grew quite large over the years from one location to seven throughout the southeast.

You need to talk to other people who have done it and you need to figure out what strengths and weaknesses you have and get people who are strong in areas that you're weak to help you.

I majored in computer science at Wake Forest and then got a law degree from Wake Forest. I moved back to Atlanta and I practiced at a firm that doesn't exist anymore called Griffin, Cochran, and Marshall in construction litigation. That firm was absorbed by what is now Eversheds Sutherland. For construction litigation think large commercial power plants, skyscrapers, things like that. I practiced for almost three years and then I got a call from my mom one day saying, “We need you to come back and help us run the family business. We've expanded again and kind of overextended ourselves.”

So I quit practicing law, came back, and helped in the family business for about two years. I then advised my parents to sell the business. We were kind of at an inflection point where either we needed to sell or we needed to borrow probably one hundred million dollars to grow the business to the next level, and that was just not something that we felt was wise given the competition, the marketplace, et cetera. So we decided to sell the business. We were kind of lucky and didn't see it coming, but we closed in early 2008 right before the crash and we got a very nice multiple. My parents were the majority owners, but I was a minority owner. So they were able to essentially retire after the sale of that business. But as a minority owner, it was just enough for me to have seed capital to start doing other things.

I then spent some time doing some angel investing that didn't go very well. I had a couple of decent investments and then some that weren't so good. So I decided I was better off taking my life into my own hands. I started investing in businesses that I was directly involved in. I met Chef Christophe during that time and said, “let's start this together.” I met him because I was eating his food. I thought it was amazing.

So we started Christophe’s. We’ve iterated a lot. But we're here now making food, selling it throughout Atlanta and continuing to try to grow the business.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

The space that we're in, both locally in Atlanta and throughout the country is highly competitive. Food delivery is probably one of the things that you read about regularly. If you're reading tech startups and other things like that; we've got Amazon in the space a little bit. Uber is obviously big in it. DoorDash, PostMates, etc. There are also companies that are selling food kits such as Hello Fresh and Blue Apron, which are large national competitors. We also have local competitors just based in the Atlanta market and we're all striving to get more market share and figure out different ways to get in front of different customers. There are a lot of questions that are asking specifics about margins, cost of good customer acquisition costs, things like that, and I don't really want to go into that because of the level of competition. I don't think it would be useful for me to reveal all that stuff to my competitors. So I'm going to skip over that. But the answer to the questions about what our operations look like today, we cover a large swath of metro Atlanta. We've got all of the standard operation down of changing the menu every week, and getting meals prepped efficiently. Our Yelp and Google reviews are basically consistently five stars. They speak for themselves. So our quality of products and our delivery rate are second to none. Currently, our plan is simply to try to get more customers in our market. And we also, as I mentioned earlier, are trying to grow our nut snack line (Nødder), which we plan to take national, and our wholesale pastry business.

We also have another plan that I'm keeping secret now. But if I do version 2 of this interview, maybe in a year or so I can reveal what we're doing at that point. But right now, it's on incognito mode.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I would say the thing that I've learned that's the most advantageous is that you can't delegate too much to somebody, particularly a consultant, and then just assume that they're going to do a good job. I've spent many hundreds of thousands of dollars on bad developers on our website. I've spent a lot of money on marketing people who have spent a lot of our money ourselves and then additional funds on Facebook or Google or other ad platforms and without really any results whatsoever. So I would say that if you are planning to make a large expenditure and you're going be giving that money to a consulting firm or a third party, then you can't just assume they're going do it right. A lot of times, even if you discover they've messed up and you haven't paid everything, the amount of time that you've invested, working with these people can still be crippling if they aren't able to deliver. So I think it's very important that you vet those people very carefully and don't overextend yourself. Also, don't assume that they're going to be able to meet all the promises or comply with everything that they say they're going to do.

You know, we've had lots of ups and downs with other potential business partners, people who come and tell you things. I think the best overall advice I can give is that you should be skeptical and not really trusting. People have a tendency to always want to sell you on their plan. And most of the time, it's not as good as it sounds when they present it to you. So be skeptical and always verify and check behind people.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Our main web site is self-developed. We spent a long time trying to use Shopify, but it would not work for our business because we need too much customization. Then we spent a lot of time on WordPress. That was an utter disaster. I do not recommend anything more than very basic e-commerce on WordPress. The reason we use it was because it was free and the plug-ins were relatively cheap. But when you have 25 different plugins fighting with each other, that's not going to turn out well. It was a nightmare. So eventually I bit the bullet hired two developers full time. The website that we're running now is completely ground up made from scratch. It took over a year, but it makes us much more efficient and, I believe, helps the customer experience. We have a lot of tools we use for marketing. I would say the most important ones are User.com, which is our chat tool. Also lets us do email. We use Trello for task management, which I find invaluable and I highly recommend everybody look at that if they haven't used it in the past.

Social media, we're on all of those right now and there are a bunch of different tools out there. I think the one we use is fine, but there are a lot of other ones that are good. There are some custom integrations between Trello and the CRM that we're using that let us keep up with catering events. But some of that I think is I would rather keep proprietary because we spend a little bit of time researching it and then creating the integrations there. So you want that information maybe come in by Christophe’s, do an acqui-hire.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I subscribe to Audible and try to download and listen to two or three books every month at least. And so I spend a lot of time listening to stories of entrepreneurs, stories of famous people, just trying to see how different people approach problems. I would say the most valuable books are the ones that talk about statistics because a lot of times people make decisions based on anecdotes rather than on good hard facts looking at numbers properly. A lot of times people can make decisions on a too small sample size, which really doesn't lend you to be able to make a very high level of confidence decision. So books that talk about statistics, or just flaws in humans, the way humans process and sort of have a bias towards certain things.

The other book I'm listening to right now is called Wind Bigly, I think it's Scott Adams. He's a Dilbert comic and it's about Donald Trump. I'm maybe a third of the way through. It's fascinating. I'm going to continue to listen to it before I pass judgment on it. But it is interesting regardless of what you think about President Trump one way or the other.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

That's tough. I think the best advice I can give is you need to talk to other people who have done it and you need to figure out what strengths and weaknesses you have and get people who are strong in areas that you're weak to help you. A lot of entrepreneurs think they can do more than they really can. I suffer from that problem myself. And so you need to not be as optimistic as you probably are. Most entrepreneurs are very optimistic about their prospects.

And the Rocky speech… I think was Rocky 5 or Rocky 6. Which one? Where he tells his son that the “world is going to beat you down?” That's Rocky 5. Yeah. That's exactly what's going to happen to you. The world is going to beat you down and spit you out. And it is going to be ten times harder than you think it is. So try to get as much advice as you can from other people. Your rosy predictions probably aren't going to come true.

Where can we go to learn more?

There's Christophe’s Website (christophestogo.com) which can learn more about that. I'm on LinkedIn. I have several other different businesses I'm involved in. So if you wanted to see what else I'm involved in, you can check me out and just search for “Cyclone Covey”. Not many other people with that name. So it shouldn't be too hard for you to find. I try not to spend a bunch of time on social media writing personal blog posts because I have too much to do. And my goal is not to build my personal brand, but to build the companies that I'm invested in.