Connecticut’s aging population is a concern to some business owners — but for chef Paul Finney, it's a major plus.
Senior citizens and baby boomers are the “bread and butter” of October Kitchen LLC, the Manchester-based food home delivery business that Finney started 17 years ago. In contrast to more recent startups in the meal delivery space, which tend to market themselves more toward millennials, Finney said his target demographic is seniors.
That market is growing in Connecticut, where the population is getting progressively older as the overall number of people declines, according to U.S. Census data. People age 65 and older made up 15.1 percent of the population in 2015, up from 14.2 percent five years earlier.
Targeting that growing demographic is a wise move due to strong brand loyalty exhibited by seniors, said Joe Horvath, assistant policy director at the Hartford-based Yankee Institute for Public Policy. But the right type of business plan could also secure a younger demographic.
“If the ordering system is sort of like those Amazon buttons, there remains a chance that younger consumers who value convenience and immediacy can be attracted,” he said.
But Finney said he is focused on seniors, not a younger demographic. The group already makes up about 70 percent of his customer base, he said—and he'd like to grow that percentage.
"We are in fact focusing more and more on seniors," he said. "We find they have a higher retention rate and appreciate our low sodium, healthy options the most."
That includes the attendees of Senior Moments, an adult day-care center in Tolland, who “love the food” provided by October Kitchen, according to facility owner Lori O’Connor. The company has been delivering three days a week for the past five years, she said. Senior Moments clients, which number around 25 per day, have a choice of 15 entrees, some of which are warmed up prior to consumption.
“I’ve known Paul for years and he’s a great chef who really cares about what he produces and the people he produces for,” said O’Connor, who previously employed Finney as a personal chef in her Manchester home.
October Kitchen employs a part-time nutritionist, who is helping create and expand menus for those living with heart conditions, sodium sensitivity, diabetes and kidney issues. Finney said his focus on nutrition grew out of family issues, including his father’s kidney problems, and October Kitchen offers dairy-free, garlic-free and wheat-free selections.
“Anybody can cook; there are a million great chefs,” said Finney, a 1992 East Hartford High School graduate who went on to earn a culinary degree from the renowned Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. “But can they can back it up with an ingredients list and healthy choice information? That’s where we really stand out.”
In the meal delivery business, October Kitchen faces strong competitors, including New York-based Blue Apron and Plated, two brands that have generated a lot of buzz in the past two years. Those food purveyors deliver to homes, but “you've still got to cook it,” Finney noted.
"We’re a finished product,” he said. “Heat and dinner is ready when you are.”
October Kitchen, which calls itself “Connecticut’s Premier Meal Delivery Service,” employs four drivers and has six truck routes throughout the Greater Hartford area, Finney said. Additional routes are being considered.
“We’re developing a strong reputation,” he said. “I’ve only lost one delivery in 10 years.”
Last year the company delivered 10,000 boxes to homes with each box containing 10 to 12 items. October Kitchen, which has 13 employees, is growing its revenue about 10 percent per year, according to Finney.
Finney is considering opening a New Haven location within a couple of years, he said.
In tandem with growing delivery routes, Finney and wife Alison are adding to October Kitchen’s headquarters/cooking center at 309 Green Road in Manchester. They’re upgrading kitchen equipment—including state-of-the-art baking and freezing machines, creating a reception selling area, hiring a new chef, and planning a second cooking shift to begin in June.
“God’s answer is always 'Yes,' but are you ready to say 'Yes?,'” he said. “We’re saying yes to growing this business.”
Finney met his wife, also an East Hartford High graduate, at the South Glastonbury restaurant now known as 2 Hopewell.
“She was my favorite waitress and I was her favorite chef and I think I’m still her favorite chef,” Finney said with a smile.
The two married in 1999 and their daughter was born the following the year. Finney left the restaurant business the following year after a career that included a stint working for renowned chef and restaurateur Todd English in Boston.
The early days of October Kitchen featured Finney working as personal chef in the homes of various clients and starting the Pot Luck Supper Club out of an East Hartford church basement that Finney recalls as his “incubator space.”
He began delivering food to homes in 2009. The following year, with 40 steady clients, the Finneys moved into the 1,800-square-foot Green Road facility. Software systems were added and menus expanded. Offerings today include lemon herb cod, Yankee pot roast, Chef Paul’s beef stew, and G-BOMB salad, which is composed of cancer-fighting foods.
“I saw an opportunity and I wanted to grab it,” Finney said. “We’re still a startup, working out the kinks.”
October Kitchen's counter service, where prepared foods like Caesar salads are kept in transparent coolers for quick sale, are increasingly popular with customers, Finney said. That includes Glastonbury resident Jennifer Goggins, a home-delivery customer since 2012 who said she has been making more purchases at the counter. She said her children also like October Kitchen’s dishes and are pleased when Goggins delivers some herself. Popular among the family members are sweet potato burritos, American chop suey, Norwegian meatballs, lentil soup and pumpkin spice muffins.
“There are so many different items to choose from in a month that we never run out of new things to try as well as enjoy our favorites,” Goggins said, adding that the no-salt dishes are both tasty and healthy.
October Kitchen is in the process of branding itself as a “wellness company,” according to Finney, who said he is trying to structure his business to avoid the “razor-thin” margins of the restaurant world.
“I have 100 percent usage of my capacity,” he said. “I sweat every dollar into this place.”