Kevin Kim began offering private dining experiences as a way to forge lasting relationships with his high-end real estate clients.
Now, it’s the lifeblood of his Irvine-based startup, Cheferbly LLC.
Cheferbly, which launched in Orange County last October, is a platform for private dining similar to how Tock or OpenTable websites are for restaurants, Kim said.
By creating a central reservation platform, the company aims to “democratize and demystify” the elusive nature of private dining while simultaneously spotlighting private chefs and caterers.
“The process for booking [private] catered dinners was so complicated, time-consuming and seemingly antiquated, given restaurant reservations can be made with the click of a button,” Kim said.
“I wanted to simplify the relationship between private chefs and consumers by creating a solution that would make their service accessible to everyone. Cheferbly was created to bridge that gap.”
The company currently counts around 20 chefs on its platform, including those who have excelled at famous restaurants like Nobu, Spago, Knife Pleat and El Cellar de Can Roca, which has won a Michelin three-star rating.
Cheferbly, which was initially self-funded by Kim, is backed by an undisclosed angel investor and is currently looking to fund a seed round.
The founder recently used his own platform to bring a level of luxury at his daughter’s 10th birthday party, booking two chefs to prepare a multi-course culinary experience for his guests.
The popularity of private dining has grown in recent years as hosts opt for intimate, relatively COVID-safer events during the pandemic.
Kim said that private dining’s pandemic-fueled boost has yet to capture the entire potential market.
He estimated that while the wealthiest 1% are regular private diners, the top 10% are still relatively new to the concept. That 10%, along with die-hard foodies willing to splurge on premium dining experiences, is Cheferbly’s target demographic, he said.
For foodies and curious private dining newbies, Cheferbly is offering monthly pop-ups to allow guests to get a taste of its chefs’ work before booking a reservation.
The company this year will host one pop-up every month in Irvine. Tickets range from $160 to $215 per guest.
A Valentine’s Day pop-up at the Middleby Residential Showroom in Irvine is set for Feb. 14, featuring five of the platform’s top chefs. For guests with allergies and other dietary restrictions, chefs will accommodate with substitutions and modifications.
Popular demand for Cheferbly’s pop-ups has prompted Kim to plan for an LA expansion this year.
“We’re looking into different venue options,” he said.
According to Kim, a couple who attended Cheferbly’s October launch party has made multiple trips from their Glendale residence to attend the company’s pop-ups in Irvine.
“They begged us to come to LA,” Kim said, adding that it “was really nice to hear. That’s a validation—that we’re doing something right for them to come all the way down from Glendale.”
Caviar, Truffle Partners
Cheferbly aims to help consumers obtain the same high-quality ingredients as its chefs by offering suppliers products on the website.
The company last year secured a partnership with Sterling Caviar, the largest caviar producer in the U.S., according to its site.
Cheferbly offers four different tins of Sterling caviar—which is “widely used among Michelin Star restaurants—from sturgeon that are “sustainability farmed and raised.” A 4.4-ounce Sterling tin ranges from around $60 to $85. Prices per Sterling tin vary depending on the market.
Cheferbly also recently secured a partnership with Italian truffle company, Truffle Dealers, an ingredients wholesaler.
The beginnings of Kim’s entrepreneurial aspirations date back to his childhood in Korea. His father was an entrepreneur who started an import-export business.
“He would often talk about how businesses work at a very high level,” Kim said. “So, it piqued my interest.”
Kim moved from Korea to the U.S. at the age of 13. After graduating college, he served in the Air Force, worked in software and eventually pivoted to luxury real estate.
As a real estate agent, Kim found he made lasting impressions by hosting private dinners at the multimillion-dollar properties he would try to sell to his high-profile clients.
Cheferbly’s Orange County launch comes on the heels of its rapid expansion plans to more than double its chef count from 20 to as many as 100 by the end of the year.
“We’d like to think we got the demand side covered,” Kim said. “But if we don’t have enough supply—supply being our chefs—then people won’t be able to book.”
The company, which has gained “a lot of traction” since its launch party, hopes it can use that residual momentum to expand beyond Southern California to Northern California, New York and Florida in the second half of the year.
“We want to be positioned as a national brand.”
Local Chef Lineup
Cheferbly LLC’s private chefs, a handful of which have local ties, have cooked in Michelin-starred restaurants and alongside culinary celebrities.
• Chef Han, who also goes by Brian Kim, is a former Nobu chef who started Santa Ana luxury sushi spot ShariNori, which offers omakase-style caterings.
• Chef Taylor Elam is an Orange County native who has cooked in “some of the most prestigious kitchens in California,” including at Spago with Wolfgang Puck and at the Michelin-starred Fleur de Lys with Hubert Keller in San Francisco.
• Chef Jaclyn Gallo, who learned to cook from her Italian grandmother, moved to Newport Beach in 2019 to work at the Michelin-starred Knife Pleat in Costa Mesa and the Balboa Bay Resort.
• Chef Jimmy Matiz has worked with Michael Mina in San Francisco and at the three-Michelin-starred El Cellar de Can Roca in Spain. He holds two diplomas from Harvard University in the science of cooking and two diplomas on modernist techniques and Mediterranean Ingredients from the University of Barcelona.
• Chef Ken Anderson serves as a personal chef to some of Hollywood’s A-list celebrities and has made appearances on culinary shows on Hulu and Food Network. He graduated from Le Cordon Bleu culinary school at the top of his class.