When Covid struck, pilots Tom Peaford and Bedant Sen had to shift gears — so from flying up in the sky, they’re now whipping up healthy meals in a cloud.
Peaford and Sen were among the pilots who were laid off when Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the aviation sector. But, instead of waiting for the next job opening, they launched Gourmate, a meal delivery service where dishes are prepped and packed from a cloud kitchen in Dubai.
The duo, who flew 2,600 hours each in their seven years with Air Arabia, left the Sharjah-based budget airline in search of better career prospects, only to get the worst news for any pilot amid the pandemic.
“We were offered jobs at a leading airline in the UAE. I joined them in March 2020, and Tom joined them in April. It was in the early stages of Covid-19 when we joined them. However, after being put on leave, we were eventually let go from the airline in May due to pandemic-triggered job cuts,” explained Sen.
For Peaford, losing the job couldn’t have happened at a worse time, he said. “My older son is just a year old, and my wife and I had just had our second son.” Fortunately, his wife, a teacher, went back to work to support the family.
Instead of waiting around to be re-hired into the aviation sector — which Peaford predicted could take anything between a week to another year — the duo decided to pool their savings and launch Gourmate. The service offers a range of comfort dishes that customers can place on social media and the company website gourmate.ae.
“In the years we spent at the (Alpha Aviation Academy in Sharjah), we’d also grown to become close friends. We’ve also been wanting to do something like this as a means for supplement income,” said Sen.
While a pilot’s job is very specific, it comes with a plethora of soft skills.
“We are trained to work well under pressure, we have excellent time management skills, and we just decided to use these skills to build something that is ours,” said Peaford.
Sen grew up and completed most of his education in the UAE, while Peaford, who owned several farm shops in the UK, moved to the Emirates to pursue a career in aviation.
“I have a background in the food and beverage industry, and this is a popular food delivery system in the UK, so we decided it would be good to bring it to the UAE,” said Peaford.
“Also, the airline kept us on their employee visas for a few months. That gave us the time to plan the business model, work on product development, perfect the recipes, and get ourselves licensed. We spent five months researching the market,” Sen added.
The pilot-entrepreneurs believed their service is perfect for the UAE market “where so many people get caught in the rut of ordering fast food and takeaways”, he said. “We want to give people a healthier option. The customer feedback so far has been incredible.”
How does Gourmate work?
The dishes are seasonal meals made by professional chefs, and there are five different vegetable servings in each dish.
“We believe in sustainability, so most of our ingredients are locally sourced. However, in case we cannot find them here, we purchase them from the UK,” said Peaford.
The business operates out of a cloud kitchen in Dubai, where dishes are prepped, packed, and blast frozen. “Each meal pack has a validity of six months. Since its blast froze, the nutrients from the food are not compromised,” Sen explained.
Presently, the Gourmate menu offers dishes such as beef bourguignon, butter chicken, chilli con Carne, classic fish pie, Thai chicken curry, lamb hot pot, lasagne, roasted vegetable and chickpea curry, to name a few.
“Once the order is placed, the food is delivered to residents’ homes in two to three hours,” he added.
The duo is constantly adding new dishes to the menu and experimenting with diet plans such as low-carb and keto. Sen and Peaford and working towards partnering with retail outlets. “In our hearts, we will always be pilots. But, even when we go back to flying, our job offers us the flexibility to pursue our business,” he added.