“Back to celebrating”: Private chef marketplace Gathar raises $600,000, as eased restrictions put dinner parties back on the table

Gathar-co-founder-Jodie-Mlikota

Gathar co-founder and chief Jodie Mlikota. Source: supplied.

Dinner party startup Gathar has secured $600,000 in seed funding, and, as friends and relatives tentatively start making house calls again, co-founder and chief Jodie Mlikota says we could be on the cusp of a home-dining revolution.

Gathar was born out of Mlikota’s own frustration. While she loved hosting dinners with friends, she wasn’t so keen on the actual cooking aspect.

He co-founders Nicky Jurd and Kaj Haffenden, on the other hand, were both keen amateur chefs who didn’t get to use their skills as often as they’d like.

The trio identified a need for a platform to connect chefs with parties, leaving hosts free to entertain.

After a few “very delicious” test gatherings, they launched the platform in September 2018, Mlikota tells SmartCompany.

Since then, it’s expanded from its initial catchment of Cairns and Port Douglas into 10 locations across the country.

The business is seeing revenue growth of at least 20%, month-on-month, Mlikota says. And with the latest funding, the team is hoping to supercharge that growth by 10 times.

The funding round is led by ACAC Innovation, and also includes funding from FNQ Angels and the Queensland Government’s Business Development Fund

It’s been in the pipeline since October last year, and was “pretty much done” before the pandemic and the lockdowns really took hold in Australia.

But still, the founders did have some conversations with their new investors, discussing what the pandemic would mean for the business. Ultimately, Mlikota says the backers were still committed to the startup, and continued growth is still on the cards.

Over the next six months, the team is planning to launch in New Zealand, and then take the brand global.

But the founders will also be building on Gathar’s presence in Australia, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, where it’s still relatively new.

“We’ve still got a long way to go,” says Mlikota.

“We want to become a household name in Australia,” she adds.

Celebrating, with a difference

As is the case for many startups, the COVID-19 pandemic put something of a spanner in the works for Gathar. Social gathering restrictions meant there were weeks where dinners parties were squarely off the table.

“We’ve certainly seen this increase now that restrictions have started to ease,” Mlikota says.

“People want to get back to celebrating.”

But, at the same time, the business didn’t take quite as big a hit during lockdown as the founders first anticipated.

The platform has seen more bookings for small gatherings — for two people celebrating their anniversary, for example, or even small weddings.

Gathar also hosted a virtual dinner party, with several chefs cooking up the same four-course meals in different locations, which were delivered to diners’ homes. There was even a remote musician taking requests from some 250 virtual ‘guests’.

“It’s always nice for people to share a delicious experience,” Mlikota says.

Even now people can get together physically (within reason) for gatherings, this online experience is something Gathar will consider doing again.

Mlikota is seeing a shift in consumer behaviour, she explains. People are becoming more comfortable with online and remote interaction, and they’re looking for new ways to be entertained while at home.

At the same time, we now have multiple new ways to connect with friends and family in different cities and states.

People will go out again, Mlikota says, but many are enjoying staying at home as well.

“There will be that balance,” she suggests.

We’ve seen time and time again that COVID-19 has accelerated a shift towards the digital world. It seems that, in hospitality, things are no different.

“People are more comfortable interacting in that way. Not only in the workspace, but also in entertaining and in our private lives,” Mlikota says.

“We’ll be looking at how we can keep those virtual experiences going.”

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NOW READ: The show must go on(line): How Humanitix helped organisers to hold events during the COVID-19 lockdown

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