Having spent the past nine months nurturing a newly expanded US offshoot in California, private chef booking platform Gathar is set to launch in Texas next week during the state’s celebration of innovation, technology and culture SXSW.
Catering initially for private events and corporate meetings in Austin, Gathar’s Texas-based operations mark the first interstate expansion in the USA for the growing scale-up co-founded by Jodie Mlikota, Nicky Jurd and Kaj Haffenden.
Speaking to Business News Australia over Zoom, Mlikota - who brought celebrity chef Curtis Stone on as a co-founder of Gathar USA last year to spearhead the company’s international ambitions - said the business was still “just getting started”.
“Even though we’ve been going for nine months, it feels like we’re just getting started in the US,” Mlikota said.
“This year will be our growth year in the US, which is super exciting - we’ll do so many more great dinner parties, corporate events, weddings, charities, galleries - all of those things that we’ve started to work on are now here.”
For Mlikota, the US is ‘limitless’ in terms of growth opportunities, and she flagged Miami, Florida as the company’s next move once other cities in Texas - Dallas and Houston - are up and running with the platform.
“For us, the US is like Australia; we’ve still got a lot of growth there,” Mlikota said.
“I see us 10x-ing in the Australian market over the next two years, and the US market - it really is limitless.
“We’ve got to be careful that we don’t go too quick and that we’re sustainable. We just want to pick a few locations and do them really well.”
Austin represents a major leap for the company which has its origins in Far North Queensland.
Founded in 2018, the platform initially launched its services in Cairns and Port Douglas and was the culmination of a Central Queensland University assignment for Mlikota who turned her idea of “Airbnb of dinner parties” into a reality.
Prior to starting the business, the co-founder had been working at food and wine festivals - somewhere she developed her palate and gained insights on what others wanted to eat and drink.
The company now services 34 locations in Australia thanks to its community of more than 400 ‘culinarians’ - chefs, caterers, cooks and stylists - who whip up delicious meals as selected by the host, serve them to hungry guests and clean up the resulting mess. The number of chefs is double what the company had in Australia one year prior.
In the US, Gathar has onboarded about 60 chefs and caterers who currently service California, including a recently launched presence in San Francisco. This expansion is buoyed by more than $1 million in post-seed funding and a further $600,000 in seed capital.
According to Mlikota, some menus she never expected to pop off in the US have been welcomed with open arms.
“One of our most popular menus in Australia was a barbecue menu that people just love - a very traditional Aussie barbecue - and we’re finding that actually translates really well over here; people love to fire up the grill and have someone come over and cook for them,” Mlikota said.
“Another trend is what we call grazing boards in Australia - the big cheese boards at events - they’re really popular over here, they just have a different name: charcuterie.
“There’s just things like that where the menu is the same but it’s just a slightly different word that people use for the different products. But everyone loves food, and everyone likes people to cook for them so that translates well.”
Instrumental in Gathar’s overseas success to-date has been the integration of celebrity chef Curtis Stone as a co-founder for the US arm.
Announced last year, the LA-based restaurateur’s involvement has been ‘super valuable’ according to Mlikota.
“Originally, Curtis was very much giving us insight into the US industry - how to onboard chefs and how we would work with the industry,” she said.
“We also found that when we were working with our original US culinarians that the trust built by having Curtis on board was super valuable.
“Since then it’s been about the customer-facing aspect - as a co-founder we’re able to use him across all of our socials and media, and that’s been really helpful to build credibility in the market.”
Ultimately, Gathar’s Austin expansion comes at the same time as thousands of forward-thinkers, technologists and startup founders descend on the city for SXSW - a nine day conference celebrating the convergence of tech, film, music, education and culture.
“It’s certainly a good time to launch,” Mlikota said.
“Other tech businesses will be there, there’s a lot of buzz, so it’s a great time to go live.”
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