Quick family dinners without the fast food

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Susan Clifton prepares one of the many meals available at Supper Solutions.

When Pati Nuce was an accountant in Denver, she used Westminster-based Supper Solutions to provide meals during the week that a busy working mother could not. When her family moved to Colorado Springs, she decided to open a franchise of the popular business.
“Everyone is faced with the decision about what’s for dinner,” Nuce said. “And this was a way my family provided dinner and still had time to spend together. It seemed like a good fit.”
In 2003, Leanne Diester and Sandy Gargac were interested in going into business.
“We all had the ‘mommy guilt,’” Diester said. “It’s hard to work 10, 11 hours a day and then cook dinner. We heard about these community center meetings, where everyone brings an ingredient and you leave with a meal. We did the research and discovered some mom-and-pop kitchen preparation stores. So, we did it.”
Their first store opened in October 2003. Diester and Gargac received so much interest, they created a franchise. Today, there are 12 Supper Solutions locations in Colorado, as well as stores in Tempe, Ariz. and Selma, Texas. Colorado Springs has two stores, one off Powers Boulevard and the other in Briargate. Two more are scheduled to open in 2006.
“Business is very good,” Nuce said, busily helping a group of six women prepare meals for the next two weeks. “We’ve been received very, very well. So many people are concerned about doing the right things, but they are so busy. So, they give their kids a fast-food burger. We’ve lost the family dinner, people just don’t have time.”
Supper Solutions is a way to make more time for sit-down family dinners. The franchise does all the “shopping, chopping and clean up.” Families just have to cook the dinners.
Customers choose 12 dinners from each month’s menu on the store’s Web site, www.suppersolutionsinc.com. They submit their orders online, and pick the date for the store session. When they arrive, they go to stations where the recipe is posted, and the ingredients are ready to go.
“They can prepare the food to their family’s own taste,” Nuce said. “If they don’t like a lot of spices, they can leave that out. If they are vegetarians and want to substitute something for the meat, they can do that as well. We’re very flexible here.”
For very busy people – those who don’t have time for the two-hour commitment to prepare the meals – Supper Solutions will make and mix all the ingredients. All a customer needs to do is pick up the bags.
The kitchen preparation business also offers beverage suggestions, such as wines for each meal. On holidays, side dishes are provided.
“We don’t normally provide side dishes or breakfast,” Nuce said. “But in November and December, we do both. We have a great French toast dish that keeps you out of the kitchen when you have holiday guests.”
Twelve meals at Supper Solutions cost $114 for two to three servings or $184 for four to six servings. There is a slight increase if Supper Solutions staff has to prepare the meals for you.
Who takes advantage of the convenience of Supper Solutions? Single parents, for the most part, Nuce said. But, she said, the business is popular with anyone who has ever had to answer the question: “What’s for dinner?”
Susan Clifton, a single mother and a graphic designer at the Pikes Peak Library District, started coming to the store in October, and raves about the food.
“I have two kids,” she said. “A 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. We’re so busy with daycare and work, and activities; it’s just hard to make a good, nutritious meal. This is so nice; the meals are varied, so I know they are getting a lot of good, nutritious food. Everyone is so busy these days; this is just a great thing.”
Supper Solutions is just one of several dinner preparation centers springing up around the nation. According to AdAge.com, meal assembly kitchens are one of the newest marketing trends in the country.
The Easy Meal Preparation Association, a trade group that assists the kitchen preparation businesses, estimates that nearly 550 meal preparation stations are in business across the nation.
Colorado ranks second in the nation in the number of meal preparation kitchens.
“People are so interested in this,” Diester said. “We have business from busy parents – that’s a no-brainer – but empty-nesters are customers, too. We even have college kids come in and make dinner together; they make meals for the dorm.”
Supper Solutions will be featured on CNN early in 2006 and Diester hopes that the exposure will translate into franchises opening in other states.
“The Midwest is screaming for us,” she said. “We’re going to open franchises in some of the contiguous states. We’re looking at the East Coast too; there’s a lot of demand there.”
In Colorado, Diester said she is interested in opening more kitchen preparation stores in the Colorado Springs area. Monument, for example, has the correct demographic.
“We don’t have anyone interested in opening one there yet,” she said. “But we’re definitely moving forward. Our product basically sells itself. Anyone who eats sees the benefits. If you don’t have to spend the time, why should you?”
Amy.Gillentine@csbj.com