Chef’s Roll was founded by Thomas Keslinke and Frans van der Lee as the self-proclaimed LinkedIn for chefs. It’s marketed worldwide to chefs and culinary professionals as a way to tell their story, showcase their talent, and connect with anybody from potential customers to casting producers.
“Websites like this are gold to casting producers,” says Dani Maule, casting producer for Top Chef and Cutthroat Kitchen. “They assist in our outreach process. Chef’s Roll is a very resourceful tool when it comes to researching.”
However, getting chefs to believe in this tech-focused tool that requires both time and money was a massive challenge. So, when the team sold their first profile and saw the user build it in the same day, they were ecstatic.
To date Chef’s Roll has brought in thousands of professional chefs, and the numbers are only growing. Keslinke gave us a look behind the scenes at how the idea got rolling and why they chose San Diego as their home city.
Tech Cocktail: How did you come up with the idea for Chef’s Roll?
Thomas Keslinke: Frans and I began a branding and marketing firm catering to companies that needed help with a new identity, improving the old one, or starting from scratch. I was also in the hospitality field for over 13 years and made a lot of connections in the back of house.
We started getting inquiries from chefs I had met along the way; they were looking for help with personal branding.
We thought it would be beneficial to build a portfolio where a chef would have the ability to showcase their talent in a cost-effective, simple to build, yet beautifully designed way. It could include their work history, list awards, press, and plenty of visuals for visitors to feast their eyes on.
We enlisted the help of our longtime designer Somsara Rielly and Chef’s Roll was born. Funny thing is, we had the idea for our startup, not in a garage, but underneath one, in a home office.
Tech Cocktail: Why did you choose San Diego as your startup city?
Keslinke: My co-founder and I have both lived all over the world – from Hong Kong to Grand Cayman. We both call San Diego our home now and it’s a great place to be. Plus, Forbes did just name San Diego the number one place to launch a startup in 2014.
We had a conversation with a company out of NYC, a strategic partnership we tried landing out of the gate. We felt this company would be our golden ticket to success; getting an endorsement from them was all we could think about.
They kept asking why we didn’t have an office in New York, San Francisco, or other major food cities. We kept asking why we would need one there – with social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, it’s easy to reach out to anyone on the planet.
Tech Cocktail: It’s been said that there is a lack of VC in San Diego. What’s your take on that situation?
Keslinke: With email, phone, and video chat, geographic obstacles are obsolete. If you have a great idea and are passionate, people will want to help connect you to the right people. VCs don’t need your startup to be in their backyard; they just like knowing they invested in the right company: one with passion, dedication, and the right network of influencers and the desire to succeed.
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