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How two brothers created $7m food delivery business Atlas Weekly

When a Melbourne restaurant had to come up with a plan to survive the pandemic, it led to a new offering that at one time made $100,000 in a day.

When Melbourne first went into lockdown during the pandemic, Atlas Dining head chef and owner Charlie Carrington didn’t want to just follow the crowd and launch a takeaway service in order to survive.

But he knew he had to come up with something to keep his international staff paid and the restaurant business afloat.

Atlas Dining changes its menu every four months based on cuisines from around the world and Mr Carrington, 28, along with his brother Ben, wanted to keep the restaurant’s global theme alive.

So he put a call out on Instagram to see if anyone would be interested in weekly cooking classes, where they would provide a meal kit and demonstrate how to prepare a dish, allowing people to taste different cuisines from around the world.

The brothers called it Atlas Masterclass and in the first half-hour there were 80 responses to their post.

In the first week they did 330 meal kits and in the two years since, the business has raked in a whopping $10 million in revenue.

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It saw the brothers outgrow the restaurant in just four weeks, having to move their meal kit operations to a racecourse kitchen, while the team grew from 10 to 75 people, Mr Carrington said.

“We would send people the ingredients and three nights a week I would be on Instagram live cooking with people at home,” he told news.com.au.

“It was a really amazing way to build a community.

“When there is a Covid lockdown and when people have stacks of time, it works brilliantly, especially at that time when a lot of people felt very lonely and had no connection with the community.

“We would have 500 or 600 people watching Instagram lives and people talking between themselves in comments.”

The scheme saw the business making $1 million a month at times and there were days where they took in $100,000 in sales from Victoria, NSW and the ACT, which the MasterChef guest judge said it was “absolutely crazy”.

Taking on the subscription meal kit industry

After a year they started to move away from the video masterclass and instead provided step-by-step recipes, with the most popular cuisines being Italian, Japanese and Mexican.

Now, the brothers want to take on the major players in the subscription box space.

The company has rebranded as Atlas Weekly, with Ben recently moving to Sydney in order to help the brand enter the market there.

Mr Carrington said they also wanted to ensure their meal boxes weren’t only used for special occasions, instead positioning them to compete in the weekly convenient dinner space.

One bestseller has been the couple’s box, he said, but there’s also been a surprising group that has joined in the fun.

“One thing that is really interesting is we started out as a restaurant and it’s not necessarily a place where kids are coming in,” he said.

“But we now have kids who cook for their parents as the recipes are simple and easy to follow and the ingredients are portioned and ready to go.

“So we have a whole new market of people who haven’t tried or enjoyed our food.” he said.

“It isn’t that our restaurant isn’t … kid-friendly, but the meal kits are focused towards midweek meals for the whole family.”

Chef quality food gives the edge

Pastas, stir-frys and tacos are favourites, according to Mr Carrington, who said one of the things that differentiates them from the crowded subscription market is the chef-quality dishes that are brought to life in the boxes.

“A lot of the other meal kit companies are about sourcing all different products, but it’s as if they are doing the supermarket shop for you, which is great, but it doesn’t give you much more than if you’re going to supermarket yourself,” he said.

“The unique thing is we make our own sauces and spice mixes and they make the dishes super special… and they enable people to make dishes that are incredibly elevated at home, but very simply.

“We have never from day one sacrificed on quality, but it feels like for a lot of other meal kit companies it’s about cutting costs and cutting on price trying to get people to sign up.”

A box for two people costs $78.95 for the week and Mr Carrington believes bringing “global flair” to people’s kitchens has helped make the concept so popular.

The meal kit subscription market was estimated by Nielsen to be worth $300 million in Australia in 2020 – and growing rapidly.

The restaurateur said the brothers’ goal is to bring in 2000 orders a week in the short term and expand into the Queensland market, and they are working with a nutritionist to provide calorie counting on the meals as well.

The offering will also be expanded to target time-poor families, where boxes with just five to seven ingredients for a meal can be on the table in 15 minutes.

“When you create dishes as a chef, it’s all about flavor first. But now we are thinking about flavour, about it being healthy and how much time it takes to cook,” Mr Carrington said.

The business is also now worth $7 million – with plans for double-digit growth over the next two years, he said.

Read related topics:Australian Small BusinessMelbourne

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