Chef Dan Benigno spent years as a national executive chef for the training and development of a corporate dining company.
After 2020, his passion for cooking led to his own Chef Around the Block.
His role involved training chefs and cooks across the United States and assisting in the opening of nearly twenty cafes. This experience not only honed his culinary skills but also provided valuable insights into the business aspects of the culinary industry.
After nearly 31 years of experience at Union Pacific, TD Ameritrade, and other big-name corporations, the world of restaurants kept no secret from him.
“I love cooking,” Benigno says. “I love feeding people. I love the logistics that go into a successful event. My love of cooking is my artistic outlet and love language. I’ve been in restaurants for 31 years, and I’m not sure what I would do otherwise.”
Unfortunately, when much in-person work disappeared in 2020, Benigno’s company laid him off after 14 years of service. Luckily, he wasn’t too concerned with his future job prospects.
“After a few interviews I thought, ‘Why don’t I just do my own thing?’” Benigno says. “Instead of others telling me what to do, I’ll just tell myself.”
After securing a commissary kitchen in Council Bluffs to operate as a licensed food service business, he embarked on meal preparation services in July 2020, responding to the changing culinary landscape shaped by evolving restrictions and societal shifts.
“I was always fond of the global cuisine menus I wrote up at Union Pacific and TD Ameritrade, so I fostered those and turned them into my meal prep menus that changed weekly,” Benigno says. “I continued to do meal prep until the end of 2021.”
Chef Around the Block continued to expand rapidly. Soon, the catering segment of the business outperformed the meal preparation services, prompting the addition of in-home personal chef services to adapt to the evolving dining scene, offering an alternative to conventional dining experiences during the period of notable transformation.
“Dinner parties of up to eight people at a time—now 24—were a great way for me to showcase my culinary talents by cooking entire dinners in peoples’ homes, plating, and engaging with their guests,” he says.
Benigno soon added cooking classes under Chef Around the Block’s belt, too. After being asked by a local company to do a cooking class over Zoom, he jumped at the opportunity. He hoped it would provide a good outlet for his love of educating.
Now, he holds private classes—booked at both his and his customers’ most convenient time—and hosts them at either the Hoff Family Arts Center or his location at Midtown Crossing.
“The Hoff Center helped me with the camera setup and off we went,” Benigno says. “After a bit of a learning curve, I’ve done over 50 private cooking classes where I teach any cuisine they want to learn. My most popular classes are Italian, Chinese, Thai, Indian and German.”
Chef Around the Block was also given the chance to show off young culinary talent in the area with its pop-up shop at Midtown Crossing, which opened in September of 2022. Allowing various local chefs to host their own menu at Chef Around the Block, young talent can try to run a restaurant for the night.
“This spot has given me the opportunity to encourage new entrepreneurs who may only do catering, meal prep, or farming to ‘pretend to be a restaurant’ for a night.” Benigno says, “If needed, I help them through the process of menu development, pricing, promoting, procurement, prep, staffing, and execution.”
With his business encompassing a variety of services such as catering, cooking classes, an in-home personal chef, and culinary pop-ups, Benigno’s Chef Around the Block is there for every culinary need.
“Your success is my success,” Benigno says. “If you learn how to cook Thai food for the first time, I’m here to pat you on the back. If you have a lucrative pop-up, that’s a win for me too. If your catering event is successful, then I feel successful. Everyone belongs in the kitchen, and I’m here to help.”