The following article features Chef Josh Katt and Kitchfix, his Chicago company that produces healthy, restaurant-quality prepared meals for home delivery and catering and makes snack products including a line of superfood granolas that have found shelf space in the city’s supermarkets.
Katt is one of the nine competitively selection entrepreneur Fellows participating in the second year of FamilyFarmed‘s Good Food Business Accelerator (GFBA). He and other GFBA Fellows will have high-profile roles during the Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference and its Financing Fair on Thursday, March 24, which kicks off FamilyFarmed’s three-day, 12th annual Good Food Festival & Conference in Chicago.
Some of the Fellows also will be participating as exhibitors or vendors at the Good Food Industry Conference on Friday, March 25 and the Good Food Festival on Saturday, March 26. Kitchfix will be returning as one of the vendors at the Good Food Court during the Festival.
To learn more about the Good Food Festival & Conference, please click here.
by Bob Benenson, FamilyFarmed
Josh Katt, a Chicago chef, came up with the idea for his eight-year-old Kitchfix company while working as a personal chef and creating healthy meals — made from anti-inflammatory superfood ingredients — for customers who were fighting cancer.
Kitchfix enabled him to expand the concept to a broader customer base. He grew a business that delivers prepared meals to homes and dropoff points, does catered events, and even has a small store in the Gold Coast neighborhood just north of downtown Chicago.
Along the way, Katt and his team hit upon a product they learned had serious commercial potential. That product is granola, but not your hippie grandfather’s granola. This is a grain-free, superfood-loaded variant of the familiar cereal and snack bar product.
Here is what the original basic Kitchfix granola contains: almonds, Thompson raisins, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, coconut flakes, maple syrup, cashews, almond flour, walnuts, coconut oil, flax seeds, pure vanilla extract, spices and sea salt. Here is what is does not contain: Grain (yes, an oatless granola). Artificial flavors. Refined sugars.
Kitchfix’s granola has obtained shelf space in Chicago stores that appeal to many Good Food shoppers, including Mariano’s and Whole Foods Market outlets. But Katt is thinking bigger — which is what led him to apply and get accepted as one of the nine entrepreneur Fellows participating in the second year of FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Business Accelerator, which provides an intensive six-month curriculum, advice from industry-leading mentors, networking opportunities and connections to the Good Food financial community.
“Right now the clearest vision I have is for granola,” Katt said during a lunch break at the Accelerator, located at 1871, Chicago’s center for entrepreneurial innovation. “I feel like there is a clear path of getting into 1,000 stores by the end of next year. That’s something that is attainable, that’s something people have done before.”
Katt previously had developed a relationship with FamilyFarmed as a vendor at the nonprofit organization’s Good Food Festival, an event held each March in Chicago. Kitchfix will be there again when the 12th annual Good Food Festival & Conference takes place March 24-26 at the UIC Forum on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus — but this time he will be doing more than serving lunches to Festival attendees.
The Good Food Business Accelerator will be prominently featured at the Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference that makes up the first day of the event, and several of the Fellows will be doing business pitches that day.
Though still in his early 30s, Katt took something of a winding road to first becoming a chef and then a Good Food entrepreneur. He initially attended community college in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan as a music student (he plays guitar) and even after he developed some serious cooking credentials in Chicago, he took some time off to explore his spiritual side by attending the city’s Moody Bible College.
But eventually, food won out.
Katt had started cooking as in teenager at a pizza restaurant in Grand Rapids, then learned the craft in that city at Bistro Bella Vita, where the pursuit of locally and sustainably produced ingredients that he practices today were instilled in him.
“Farmer Dave would come in during the summer and bring his heirloom tomatoes, his Purple Cherokees, tomatoes that had fuzz like a peach. Totally wacky things. The focus was artisanal, locally produced sourced ingredients as much as possible…,” Katt said. “The sort of things that are awesome, they make food very cool and meaningful. It makes you fall in love with it eventually.”
His early stints after moving to Chicago — the region’s population and culinary capital — including working at Le Lan, which under Chef Bill Kim was at the cutting edge of new Asian cuisine. It was in 2008, during that subsequent stint as a personal chef, that Katt’s strongly health-focused approached developed.
“I had a client, she was recovering from cancer, and she said, ‘I need to eat the anti-inflammatory diet. Here’s the book, read it,’ he said. “I was, oh my gosh, this is so cool that I can use my culinary techniques and put things together in a certain way that can actually be functional and beneficial for your body.”
He continued, “I realized I had all of the background to really execute in a way that made sense. She really loved the food and the concept and told her friends. Pretty soon I had a bulk of clients that I was cooking for. I had the healthy food angle. Out of that came the decision to open a licensed kitchen, and that’s how Kitchfix came about.”
Katt’s reputation grew, largely by word of mouth, and his was among the first in a new wave of companies providing fresh, gourmet-quality prepared meals for people who are too busy or are not inclined to cook at home. But that field has become increasingly crowded, and Katt, being a smart businessman, has been surveying the landscape for opportunities to diversify.
“We started at this meal business, meal catering, 65 percent of our revenue comes from the meal side,” Katt said. “Then we have this little thing, granola, that sort of happened by accident. Over the last six months, we decided to invest more time into that, which is how we came into the Accelerator.”
Still, there is almost always some amount of trial and error in the food business. Katt said that after his original granola blend proved popular, Kitchfix developed additional varieties. (He said, “The thing with CPG [Consumer Packaged Goods] is you don’t want to really have one star, you want to have six good ones. That’s more shelf space.”). But he — and the stores stocking his product — soon found that the original formula was outpacing the new ones by a ratio of 4-to-1.
“Right now, we’re working on redeveloping those and looking at other companies, what Kind bar does and learning about that. We’re going to re-launch all of these flavors,” Katt added.
So how do Josh Katt’s different facets — the chef side, the business side, the music side, the spiritual side — all come together to help him succeed? Here’s what he had to say:
“Music and spiritual level things, prayer, meditation, they’re all very similar. They’re using a different part of your brain. When you’re jamming out to your guitar or when you’re praying or meditating, even when you’re in the zone cooking, it’s all a different part of your brain that you don’t usually use. All those things kind of play together for me for sure.”