- Associated Press - Saturday, July 26, 2014

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Like many of the best business ideas, the one behind Chefs for Seniors came from the personal experience of Barrett and Nathan Allman, the company’s father-son founders from Sun Prairie.

Chefs for Seniors, a first-of-its-kind grocery shopping and in-home meal preparation service exclusively for senior citizens in the Madison area, will finish its first year of serving clients in August.

Aimed at helping older people live longer on their own, the business started as a winning entry put together by Nathan Allman, now 21, in last year’s Burrill Business Plan Competition at UW-Madison, the venerable annual contest recognizing outstanding student entrepreneurship across campus.

But Nathan, who has one semester left to earn a double major in finance and marketing, had been thinking about the idea that would drive the new business longer than that - ever since he and other relatives noticed about six years ago that his great-grandmother, Virginia McIlwain, wasn’t eating enough.

Living alone in her home in Rockford, Illinois, she was forced at age 85 to make a change after it became clear she could no longer cook for herself.

“She went kicking and screaming into an assisted living facility,” Nathan Allman recalled. “She had been living in her home for 60 years and had kids scattered all over. We looked around at different resources (to get help with meals) and there really wasn’t anything good.”

“Senior nutrition is a big issue and often an overlooked issue,” he added, “and it’s one that I hope our company can shed some light on and help solve.”

“We wondered why there was not a service available that would prepare customized, nutritious meals for seniors in their homes,” agreed Barrett Allman, 46, a professional chef and restaurant owner for the past 14 years who most recently operated a cafe in Monroe.

Channeling their frustration over needed senior services into a new business endeavor - while doing something they both found enjoyable - made sense for the Allmans as a family. But it also was a savvy business decision to target older customers, based on demographic studies for the U.S. population.

The huge baby boom generation, born between 1946 and 1964, are reshaping the face of housing, health, consumer and other services to an unprecedented degree - promising both outsized need and business opportunities.

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At the same time, one thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of eating well. Eating enough and eating nutritiously are as vital for seniors as they are for anyone else, even as the realities of growing older seem to conspire against it happening.

Betty Abramson, deputy director of the Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging, has seen the grim downward spiral that can occur with food issues.

“For a lot of older adults, the nutrition of their food, and therefore their health, declines enormously as they age,” she said, “either because of arthritis or some other condition that prevents them from cooking the way they used to, or from getting out to get the groceries, and, most important, because of eating alone, for some people. Particularly older men, after their spouse dies and they don’t have anybody to eat with or cook for - it gets really lonely and they don’t eat well or at regular times anymore.”

“They don’t like eating without somebody,” agreed Michelle Neeb, who runs a personal services business for seniors in the Madison area that includes meal preparation for some clients. Neeb sits down and shares some of the meals she makes for clients.

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