A new business in Morgan Hill is making healthy, convenient
dinners a reality for busy families
“This is the greatest thing ever,” said Jan Heredia as she scoops spices into a large Ziploc bag. “I just can’t say enough about it.”
Heredia is one of more than 100 customers who have discovered The Dinner A’Fare, a new business in Morgan Hill. The company is part of a growing sect of businesses trying to revolutionize the way Americans eat dinner, and is one of two locations currently opened west of the Mississippi. Most of the locations are in Georgia, where founders Ken and Stephanie Wright live. The second California location is near San Diego.
People register on The Dinner A’Fare’s Web site at www.thedinnerafare.com, schedule a time to go into the store and, while online, select 12 menu items from a list of 15.
When they show up at the appointed time, customers prepare and package the 12 meals they chose online using pre-cut and cleaned ingredients at six work stations. Each station resembles a mini-kitchen counter space, complete with an assortment of spices, measuring cups and spoons, prepared vegetables that are already chopped and ready for use, butter, pre-made sauces or marinades, and refrigerators containing the cleaned and pre-sliced meats.
Instructions for preparation of the menu items are posted at each station. Customers follow the instructions based on the meal package they pre-ordered online, specifying how many people the customer wants to serve. They wrap each meal in bags, tin pans, tinfoil or Saran wrap, placing a label on each meal that identifies what it is and the instructions for cooking.
None of the food is cooked. Customers simply prepare the meal at The Dinner A’Fare. But they prepare about 12 dinners in two hours.
“My daughter does this down in Southern California,” said Heredia, a Morgan Hill resident. “She’s a working mom, but when all she needs to do is throw dinner in the oven, she has much more time to play with the baby. She doesn’t have to make the food and she doesn’t have to run to the grocery store. It’s wonderful.”
Convenience and health were two driving factors behind the Wrights’ vision to create The Dinner A’Fare.
“We got the idea when we were visiting California, and two women were doing it out of their home,” Ken said. “There are a few other businesses out there doing something similar to what we’re doing, but we’ve differentiated ourselves from our competitors. Other places are using frozen ingredients, but we only use all fresh ingredients. Also, we cater to different family sizes, where as most other places don’t give you portion options. Finally, we offer meals that aren’t casseroles. We offer healthy dishes like boneless, skinless chicken breast and fresh pork chops.”
Stephanie is a chef and works with an assistant chef to develop and test various menu items before they appear in stores. All menu items include nutritional information and Weight Watchers point values.
“I have a hard time thinking of what to make for my family, so this makes life a lot easier for me,” said Lisa Serna, a mother of two who recently had her first session at The Dinner A’Fare. “I’d be afraid I wouldn’t know how to cook (shrimp) at home, but I like shrimp and order it at restaurants. But they have it on the menu here, and since they have the instructions to cook everything all printed out, I’ll be able to try it at home for once.”
Serna heard about The Dinner A’Fare from her neighbor, who schedules her sessions at the same time as several friends. They share a bottle of wine as they put together meals, turning dinner preparation into a social event.
Everyone wears a hat and apron as they work, and each meal comes with a list of suggested side dishes, said Pamela Gonzales, owner of the Morgan Hill branch of the company, which has been open for about two months. The business operates through franchises, and other locations in California are being considered.
Some people bring their spouses to help prepare the meals to get the process done in an even shorter amount of time, Gonzales said.
The meal options include a few pork options, a few beef options, several chicken options, occasional vegetarian options and a dessert or breakfast item, Ken said. This way, people have plenty of choices even if they don’t like pork or if they don’t like certain spices used in some of the menu items. The company also uses feedback customers e-mail in to decide what menu items to bring back in future months. For example, the mini-meatloaves on the March menu appeared earlier and proved to be a popular item.
“It may be a little more expensive than if you went to the grocery store and bought all this stuff yourself, but it’s worth it,” Heredia said. “When you think of the value of your time and all the time this saves you, it’s priceless.”
Dinner Choices this Month Include …
– Creole Shrimp with Bowtie Pasta
– Cashew Chicken
– Blackened Pork Tenderloin & Au Jus
– Mini Meatloaves
– Sicilian Chicken
– Marinated Balsamic Flank Steak
– Finger Lickin’ Chicken with Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce
– Bourbon Braised Pork Chops
– Crispy Asian Chicken Rolls
– Make Your Own Calzones
– Chicken Cordon Bleu
– Artichoke Salmon
– Tandoori Chicken with Couscous
– Cuban Style Flank Steak with Spanish Rice
– Cherry and Pineapple-Filled Crumb Cake
Price List for Meal Packages
1) 12 dishes, serving four to six people for $235
2) 12 dishes, serving one to three people for $145
3) Six dishes, serving four to six people for $145
*Contact The Dinner A’Fare at (408) 779-7520 or [email protected] Or drop in at 16965 Monterey Road in the Albertson’s shopping center, next to the Dollar Tree.