College Chefs branching out with drinks, more than a dozen treats

CHAMPAIGN — College Chefs, a business that furnishes fraternities and sororities with professionally trained chefs, is getting ready to extend its brand.

Beginning this month, the Champaign-based company plans to begin distributing College Chefs-brand snacks to some of the houses it serves.

Available in 8-ounce bags will be wasabi peas, English toffee, chocolate coffee beans, chocolate and yogurt pretzels, veggie chips, cheddar sesame sticks and about a dozen other varieties of snacks.

Although other companies make the snacks for College Chefs, the business plans to create its own recipes in coming months — for example, adding Sriracha sauce and Parmesan to wasabi peas, said Kevin Gadus, the company's founder and owner.

Within the next 90 days, College Chefs aims to place the snacks in grocery stores in communities where its client fraternities and sororities are located, he said.

The snacks are expected to retail for between $2.25 and $3.25 a bag — a rate higher than what the fraternities and sororities pay for them, he added.

By the end of July, College Chefs hopes to launch its own brand of bottled water. The water, which will come in 8-ounce bottles, is expected to sell for $3.95 a case and include "a hint of strawberry flavoring" and "a big wallop of caffeine," Gadus said.

The beverage should be a good alternative to sugar-laden energy drinks, he added.

Heading up College Chefs' snacks and water business is Tiffany Square, who joined the company last year as human resources and executive assistant.

Food and drink aren't the only areas where College Chefs is branching out. In January, the company launched Chef Placement Services, a business that recruits chefs for restaurants, hospitals, hotels and casinos.

Gadus said the new business has had six customers so far, with the first big marketing push scheduled to be made this month.

Chef Placement Services can have a team in place within 24 hours to stabilize a client's kitchen, he said. Gadus said he expects developers of multi-use projects to be among the prime clients, because they often want to stabilize restaurants anchoring their developments.

Meanwhile, College Chefs has been building its base business, adding new fraternities and sororities as clients.

Over the past year, College Chefs had added 40 to 50 employees across the country and now has about 110 employees, almost all of them full-time, according to Dave Tarrant, the general manager of business operations.

Most of them are chefs and sous chefs, but the company can also provide breakfast cooks, dishwashers and other assistants to fill out the team.

College Chefs serves fraternities and sororities on about 30 different campuses and expects to have 120 new accounts next fall in addition to the 85 accounts it has now, Tarrant said.

Although many of the company's clients are in the Midwest, College Chefs is extending its services to Florida, Nebraska, Colorado and Pennsylvania and is targeting markets in West Virginia, Texas, California, Washington and Oregon.

Last year, the company moved its offices from the M2 on Neil building in downtown Champaign to a new office building at Fifth and Park streets in Champaign.

The new space, which includes a conference room and kitchen, features artwork by local muralist Glen Davies.

Gadus said he didn't want the offices to be stuffy. Instead, he sought to provide "an environment for creative people, to emphasize that they are artists."

According to Gadus, "98 percent" of the chefs employed by College Chefs have gone to culinary school. The others have either had an internship with a master chef or have more than 20 years of experience, he said.

The chefs order food and write menus for the fraternities and sororities, as well as preparing and serving the meals. The chefs are overseen by area and regional supervisors, as well as by Jake Sanders, the director of operations and a chef himself.

"Managing a staff that is spread out as much as we are is no easy task," Sanders said. "Our chefs write menus for his or her chapters on a weekly basis, and we try to keep the menus scheduled two weeks out."

Those menus are reviewed by supervisors, and the management team also pays "house calls" to the fraternities and sororities to make sure things are running smoothly.

When hiring new chefs, Sanders said he considers education, training, experience, talent and personality.

But, he added, it's critical that they "live and work within our concept of fresh, from-scratch 'chef food'" and that they have a "can-do" attitude.

Many of the recipes the chefs use are imaginative, Gadus said. One recipe the company is trying is "Cap'n Crunch-encrusted chicken sliders."

College Chefs offers fraternities and sororities a variety of food-service packages, including gold, silver and platinum options. Among other things, the company touts its fresh-baked breads and desserts.

"We aren't just serving food," Sanders said. "We serve happiness."

Dishing on College Chefs offerings

Here's a sampling of dishes that the chefs of College Chefs have served at fraternities and sororities on various campuses:

Grilled fish tacos (Phi Kappa Psi, Purdue University), at left

Chicken florentine cannelloni and asparagus (Pi Beta Phi, Illinois State University)

Bacon-wrapped pork loin, mashed sweet potatoes and snap peas (Tau Kappa Epsilon, Millikin University), below

Orange honey-glazed salmon (Gamma Phi Beta, University of Iowa)

Margarita pizza (Phi Kappa Psi, University of Nebraska)

Pina colada cake (Kappa Kappa Gamma, Butler University)

Photos of all those dishes and more can be seen at facebook.com/CollegeChefs. The company is considering putting out a cookbook.

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