A Community Nurtured by the Grateful Chef
By April Pearson
When Chef Brandy Shayan started the Grateful Chef over 10 years ago, it wasn’t on purpose. A trained chef with experience in large and small commercial kitchens, she cooked nutritious, delicious, inventive meals for her kids daily. A friend and neighbor who didn’t have time to cook asked Shayan to triple whatever she was making that day so they could also feed their families fresh, tasty meals.
As word got around, and more people asked the chef to prepare their nightly meals, Shayan knew she was onto something. She posted a simple message on Facebook saying she’d create a new menu every week for people to choose from, and they could pick up their meals for the week at her house. The response was tremendous. As a professional chef, Shayan found it easy to scale up her recipes as necessary to meet the demand.
The business soon outgrew her home kitchen, and she moved to a commercial kitchen in her son’s preschool. When her business outgrew that space, she moved to the Wallace House in Sherman Hill. Six years ago, she moved to her current location in the East Village, which is large enough for a kitchen, grab-and-go case and dining area.
Brandy and her team are small but mighty, and all very passionate about food.
A Local-Sourcing Love Story
Food has a way of bringing people together, sometimes in unexpected ways. “It’s kind of a cool story,” Shayan says. “My now-husband Mosa was the farmer for the Wallace Centers of Iowa when I was working out of the Wallace House, so I would purchase seasonal produce through him. Our love connection started over sourcing local food.”
The Grateful Chef prepares meals for about 300 people per week, which adds up to a lot of ingredients — 250 to 300 pounds of beef or pork per week, for example. She sources Iowa eggs, dairy and meat from Loffredo Fresh Foods and Brewer Foods in Des Moines. Her husband has moved on to Middlebrook Farm in Cumming, and he’s still Shayan’s primary contact for onions, potatoes, butternut squash, herbs, salad mixes, sweet potatoes, carrots, peppers and tomatoes. “That’s how I create the menus,” Shayan says. “Mosa and I have a conversation every week about what’s available, and I come up with a menu around what’s in peak season.”
Developing a new menu every week makes the most of delicious Iowa ingredients and keeps Shayan’s customers curious and satisfied. “I think people enjoy the variety of meals we make weekly,” she says. “They say, ‘I just don’t think I could do this at home, and I really enjoy how you make these things more fun. I experience so many different flavors than I would if I were to be the one doing the cooking.’ They just love the creativity behind the different choices.”
Cooking Up Community
The Grateful Chef customers range in age, occupation and life stage. People who are aging don’t want the hassle of cooking anymore. Young families would rather spend time with their kids than in the kitchen. Professionals who lead busy lives still want home-cooked meals. One thing they all have in common:
“Everyone is so nice here,” Shayan says. “We have the best customers. Des Moines is small enough that we’ve been able to create a community of people who come in every week for their take-home meals or to stay for a quick bite from the grab-and-go case. It’s a gathering place for people to reconnect, which I think is lost these days. It’s pretty phenomenal. And I’m very proud of that part of the business.”
The Grateful Chef's location provides both a quick and easy display of food that customers desire, as well as a warm and inviting atmosphere to relax and enjoy delicious eats.
A Small Business with a Big Impact
Shayan is just as deliberate in making other business decisions as she is about sourcing local ingredients — like supporting other local small businesses. “For the lifespan of the Grateful Chef, I’ve always shopped at Graziano’s and the New Oriental Food Store in the East Village. It’s about getting the best ingredients, but it’s also about reinvesting your money in your community.”
All of the packaging she uses for meals is reusable or recyclable. If customers don’t have recycling services, they can bring containers back to the store for the Grateful Chef to sterilize and reuse. Price is another factor Shayan considers regularly. Each 2-3 serving meal is $25. “I’ve tried hard to keep the price point at a place accessible to everyone. Many people have said we could raise the prices, but that’s not my end goal.”
From Home Cook to Grateful Chef
Quick and easy weeknight meals that are healthy and hearty. Locally sourced ingredients grown by Iowa farmers and prepared by a professional chef. A small business that supports other small businesses and nurtures a sense of community. When Shayan started cooking meals in her home kitchen for extended family and friends, she didn’t set out to become the Grateful Chef, but the connections she’s made over the past 10 years have made it all possible. “I decided to call my business the Grateful Chef after a customer called me ’the grateful chef,’ and I am. People put their trust in us, which feels wonderful. I’m grateful for the support in the community to be able to do what I love.”