Gurz Singh sat typing away on his MacBook, the outside sunlight skipping between the thin opening of his bedroom curtains. His makeshift design room on the first floor of a secluded mission-style home along Overlook Parkway was a far cry from his usual workspace.
Singh, who normally lives in Dubai and is a recent graduate with a degree in artificial intelligence from the University of Edinburgh, said he never expected to find himself in Riverside. All the people he knew were thousands of miles away, and his chips were all-in that his idea would make everything worth it.
Before leaving Edinburgh, Singh enlisted a few of his friends in computer science to solve one problem he could not crack at college. Postmates, DoorDash and Grubhub all offer food delivery from local restaurants and fast-food joints, but what if people wanted the option of a healthy, curated, home-cooked meal, at any time?
For Singh, ordering a fresh plate of lasagna or a smoked-salmon sandwich at 1 a.m. seemed preferable to a Big Mac and fries, and if the price was reasonable, he knew other people were bound to agree with him.
“It’s not like Netflix or Uber close or shutdown at 11 p.m., so why should getting fresh high-quality food be limited only to restaurants operating a few hours a day?” Singh said.
With his idea, a few thousand dollars in the bank and a lineup of interested chefs, Zesty was born. Implementing his new service in the United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates faced almost no legal challenges, but to be successful, Singh knew entering the lucrative U.S. market was a necessity, and throughout the country selling food out of homes was illegal.
That was until January 2019, when a new California opt-in law allowed certified cooks and chefs to sell their meals from the comfort of their own home. Riverside has been the only county in the state to opt-in so far, so Singh decided to make the trip to start U.S. operations. Here he connected with Miles Ward, sophomore business administration major, who placed third with his team and adviser last year in California Baptist University’s business competition.
“There is unlimited potential with Zesty. Especially with the current push for convenience services, anyone can order an amazing meal at the push of a button,” Ward said.
Lali Sanchez, who worked for 22 years as a chef for clients around the world and now lives in Riverside, heard about Zesty and said she was immediately on board. With Zesty, she no longer needs to drive to clients’ homes. After preparing the meal, customers have the option to pick it up or have it delivered to their location by Zesty drivers as with other food convenience services.
“It’s amazing the freedom Zesty gives to chefs. I can work with what I love at whatever time I want,” Sanchez said.
The tech startup, aiming to diversify its food selection and hours, incentivizes chefs to join by paying for their yearly licenses; Zesty gets a 20 percent cut of all sales, and the rest stays with its chefs. Meals on the site range everywhere from French crepes to paella and lasagna, and as more chefs sign on, more items become available.
Singh admitted paying a cook to craft a personal meal may sound expensive, but Zesty’s business model eliminates the need for most operating costs associated with the majority of food establishments, in turn allowing customers to pay less. Singh said he believes prices on the menu, currently ranging from $5-$15, along with great quality and convenience, will disrupt the food service industry.
Eventually, Zesty is looking to expand its domestic and international presence, and Singh said he believes his business has the potential to do so on a national and international stage.
In November, he will fly to Florida to discuss his idea on Fox Business with former “Shark Tank” judge Kevin Harrington in hopes of sharing Zesty with a worldwide audience.