Fast food, assembly required

Let's Eat! provides ingredients, recipes, prep station, cleanup for homemakers in a hurry

Business profile Let's Eat!


With four kids between the ages of 2 and 15, getting dinner on the table every night can be a challenge for Tammy Buckshaw of Ellicott City. But it has gotten easier since she discovered Let's Eat!, which opened last month in Ellicott City's Enchanted Forest Shopping Center.

"It's already together, " she said of dishes such as blue cheese-crusted pork tenderloin and Dijon steak in a bourbon sauce. "All my daughters have to do is throw it in the oven. ... I have no mess, no fuss -- and it's cheaper."

Let's Eat! allows her to choose eight or 12 meals in advance and register online to assemble them at the store. The ingredients are washed and sliced. Buckshaw moves from station to station, creating her meals and placing them in plastic bags or foil pans. Then she moves to another station to seal and label them, then puts them in a refrigerator until she is ready to go.

Buckshaw said she did not think she would like Let's Eat! before she came "because I like to cook." But she has been making the franchise part of her regular meal preparation routine, coming at least once a week and sometimes twice, she said. "We try to eat dinner together," she said. "It's the only time we see each other."

Let's Eat! originated in Florida, and the Ellicott City location is the first outside the Sunshine State. Owners Dana and John Snyder, who also own the Melting Pot in Columbia's Wilde Lake shopping center, have taken over a former women's fitness studio and created a relaxing atmosphere with warm wood floors and soft music.

Customers can register to come in by themselves, or they can create a party with their friends.

Dana Snyder said she learned of Let's Eat! because she went to Florida State University with the founders, Melissa Slack and Marnie Poe. The concept is similar to another franchise that recently came to Columbia called Let's Dish.

Let's Dish, which was founded in Minnesota, also allows customers to choose from a menu that changes monthly, assemble meals in the store, and then bring them home for quick reheating.

"There are so many people out there, there's enough for some friendly competition," Snyder said. She said she had at one point looked into starting a Let's Dish franchise, but the Baltimore region, including Howard County, had been claimed by a group that has been opening one location after another.

At Let's Eat!, customers pay $150 for eight meals, or $205 for 12. Each meal is said to serve four to six people. Customers also can pay for the prepared dishes, $175 for eight and $240 for 12, but then they can't tweak them to suit their family's tastes. The food can even be delivered for slightly more money. Another option is to purchase a meal that has been prepared.

Side dishes, including parmesan-baked asparagus and a roasted corn and red pepper medley, and desserts such as Key lime pie are offered as already-prepared extras.

Each month, 15 dishes are offered, created by an executive chef at Let's Eat headquarters.

"We do all the shopping, the chopping, all the cleanup," Snyder said. The recipes are placed at "stations" throughout the room. Nutritional information, suggested side dishes and recommended wine pairings are all on the Internet.

The meals typically take between 90 minutes and two hours to prepare, but "some people that have been here before can fly through it in a half-hour to 45 minutes," Snyder said.

One way to sample the service is to visit Tuesdays, when, between noon and 6 p.m., customers can prepare two meals for $40. No reservations are necessary.

Let's Eat! is having a grand opening Friday, said Duane Carey of Impact Marketing, which is working with Let's Eat! On that day, 100 percent of the proceeds will go to Hospice of Howard County, he said, an organization that helped Dana Snyder's father before he died.

On Friday, customers can prepare one meal for $25 or two for $40, but they must reserve their time in advance.

Snyder said she hopes to open other Let's Eat locations in the region. But for now, she and her husband are focusing on making sure the first one is running smoothly, she said.

Let's Eat! is in the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center, 10040 National Pike, Suite E-120, Ellicott City. Register for meals online at, or 410-203-1586.

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