Let's Dish lets you make own meals

October 22, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

After the opening of Let's Dish on Jan. 4, 2005, in Timonium, the store's proprietors were amazed at the number of people traveling from Harford County to "dish."

The basic premise of "dishing" is that people make reservations either online or by telephone, then they come to the store at their scheduled "dishing" time for meal preparation, which takes about two hours.

"Every session was filling up," said Alexa Corcoran, who owns the Let's Dish stores in Maryland and Virginia along with her husband, Rick Corcoran, and Erik Ginsberg and Lisa Hardiman. "So we ended up adding more."

As business boomed, the owners of Let's Dish resolved to open a store in Bel Air to meet the demand.

"We figured if hundreds of people were willing to drive such a great distance to the Timonium store, that a store in Bel Air would do well," Corcoran said.

And her prediction was correct.

The store, which is in the Amyclae Business Center on Agora Drive in Bel Air, had sales of about $1 million during its first year. And the growth of the Let's Dish operation continues.

"We opened nine stores in 18 months, and now we're sitting back to let things settle so we can see where we need to open future stores," Corcoran said.

Although the concept is relatively new in Maryland, some customers, such as Suzanne Hinder caught on quickly. She can't imagine dinner without it.

"My only solution to avoid eating out all the time is a place like this," said Hinder, of Bel Air. "I can come to Let's Dish and spend a couple of hours preparing great dishes and leave with enough main courses for eight meals."

Hinder is one of many people trying meal assembly, the latest in food trends, at Let's Dish, which was the brainstorm of two Minnesota mothers - Ruth Lundquist and Darcy Olson.

On arrival, "dishers," as they are called by Let's Dish employees, receive a short orientation before they begin making their concoctions.

After each meal is completed, it is wrapped in aluminum foil and placed in a freezer to keep it fresh while participants continue to "dish."

The October menu includes entrees such as chicken parmigiana with angel hair pasta; wild rice and chicken chowder; mahi-mahi in a red ancho marinade with corn salad; shrimp scampi with linguine; Louisiana-style jambalaya; and seasoned pork tenderloins with mashed sweet potatoes.

The cost for the six-portion meals is $155 for eight meals and $195 for 12 meals.

In response to customer requests, Let's Dish now offers starter sessions in which customers can prepare four six-serving meals for $85.

"This gives people an opportunity to come in and try it out," Corcoran said.

The menu changes monthly, but some popular items might be extended to future months or are available at retail.

Since opening the Bel Air store and with the number of "dishers" climbing above 30,000 annually, the Let's Dish owners have opened sites in Gaithersburg, Columbia and Rockville in Maryland and Leesburg, Ashburn, Fairfax and Alexandria in Virginia,

Let's Dish employs about 25 to 40 part-time staffers, called hosts, per store. They supervise 16 reservations, of one or two people each, during each session.

"This business is all about service and making life easier for busy parents and professionals," Corcoran said. "So we want our hosts to be energetic."

To accommodate people who can't spare two hours to dish, the owners have implemented a pickup service called Dish-'n'-Dash. In that case, customers register online or by telephone for 8 to 12 meals that the staff prepares for a surcharge of $30 to $50. Customers can pick up their preselected orders and be on their way.

Although Hinder said she doesn't plan to use Dish-'n'-Dash, she believes it will be successful.

"Everything about this business is great," Hinder said. "I wish I had invented the idea or that I could at least buy some stock. It's absolutely wonderful. I love the brainlessness of it."

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