Dinner's ready for busy families
By Kira Freed
Tiffany Elmquist and her daughter Brittany, 11, stand side by side at a stainless steel counter and alternate reading from a recipe while reaching for the specified ingredients to add to their plastic Ziploc bags. After they assemble a penne pasta with Italian meatballs dinner, Tiffany sends Brittany over to the pesto-balsamic chicken with herbed bowtie pasta station to make the next meal on her own.
The Elmquists have visited Dinners Ready, a "make 'em, take 'em and bake 'em" kitchen franchise, since the Bellingham location opened at 3930 Meridian St., Space D in September 2005. Dinners Ready opened its first location in 2004 in Mukilteo, now the headquarters, and has grown to 38 franchises, primarily in the western United States.
At Dinners Ready, families, couples, singles - anyone - can come in, tie on an apron and receive help assembling pre-prepped ingredients into ready-to-eat or ready-to-freeze healthy, gourmet dinners.
"We used to eat a lot of chicken nuggets and mac 'n' cheese," Tiffany Elmquist says. "I like the variety offered here."
Larry Gulke, Bellingham Dinners Ready franchise owner, says the store targets busy, fast-paced families by providing an alternative to fast food and junk food.
"We want families back together at the dinner table," Gulke says.
At Dinners Ready, many families come in once a month and prepare as many as 16 meals in one evening.
Tiffany Elmquist says her family eats Dinners Ready meals four nights a week, eats out one night, and cooks together on the weekends. One meal is designed to feed four to six people, which for some families means there will be leftovers, but also means that the meals can be stretched just a little bit farther, making 16 meals last one month.
"I don't have to think every night, for the first time in 19 years," Tiffany Elmquist says, as Brittany walks over to the large commercial refrigerator and places her finished pesto chicken meal on a shelf.
Gulke says Dinners Ready attracts a variety of customers, including young mothers; older couples; people going camping, sailing or vacationing; church groups and college students - anyone can visit Dinners Ready and begin cooking. He and his wife, Karla, were customers at the Burlington kitchen before deciding to open their own franchise in Bellingham.
"So many people can benefit from this sort of thing," Gulke says. "I feel like I'm helping them out."
Melanie Stiles works as an accountant during the day, and says she had so much fun the first time she visited Dinners Ready, she decided to work there several evenings a week. As Stiles fills bins with chopped fresh vegetables and meats and refills spice containers, she says she loves the concept of the store.
"It's so convenient, and it saves a lot of time and money," she says. "It works out great for just me and my fiancˇ. We split the meals, and they last a long time."
Dinners Ready meals cost an average of $3 to $4 per serving, which makes each meal approximately $18. One meal consists of a main dish and a side dish.
Tiffany Elmquist, who moved around the stainless steel island to the Indian-style pork chops with chutney and curried couscous, says she also saves on her grocery bills each month and appreciates the extra time she has to spend with her family.
"Because the kids get to help here, they get to see what it's like for mom to make dinner every night," Tiffany Elmquist says. "I don't just wave a magic wand."
The Elmquists continued to prepare meals and place their Ziploc bags in the fridge, amassing a stockpile of meals to last the next several weeks. When their supply is low, Tiffany and Brittany will return to Dinners Ready for more.