This month, we spotlight Graze and Braise, the meal prep company chef Ayaz Adiguzelli built over the last four years. He joined Garden State Kitchen in March, right when stay-at-home orders came down and food supply chains started to seize. Ready to cook for his regular customers again, he shared how he kept his business going during lockdown.
By the end of March, Ayaz, an entrepreneur who comes from a family of Halal meat wholesalers and once ran his own butcher shop, was faced with a dilemma. He'd just moved his business to Garden State Kitchen, but he couldn't source a main ingredient – organic grass-fed beef.
Without it, he couldn't maintain the level of quality his customers expected from his healthy comfort food menu. As a result, he decided to temporarily close and pivot to something different: cooking for hospital workers treating Covid-19 patients.
Ayaz went from delivering seasonal favorites to busy families and professionals, to large batches of small, allergen-free meals that were easy for doctors and nurses to reheat and eat on the go.
"We put our heads down and produced food because that's what people needed," Ayaz said. "This is what we do. There was a need for food, so I said, 'let's grind'."
For six weeks, they pumped out 700 to 1,500 meals per week, including trays of green curry chicken or pulled chicken over vegetable fried rice.
A non-profit funded his frontline efforts, but payments amounted to one-third of what Graze and Braise usually earned. To compensate, Ayaz pushed for large orders, using volume to increase the margin and help keep his business afloat.
Being able to book flexible blocks of time at Garden State Kitchen also made working with the non-profit possible because he only paid rent for the hours he cooked.
Despite all the juggling and hard work, Ayaz said it was a rewarding experience.
"It felt good," Ayaz said. "You were tired, you were fatigued, but you felt like you were part of something bigger."
Now that restrictions are lifting, Ayaz plans to reopen Graze and Braise again deliver to customers throughout the state.
"The whole situation has been scary and uncertain for a lot of people'" Ayaz said. "I hope the worst is behind us now."