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Small Business Digest


Making The Dream Of Dining Together Easier

People consume 50 percent more calories, fat and sodium when they eat out than when they cook at home.

However, for the majority of today's parents, preparing well-balanced meals at home on a regular basis is an intimidating thought.

The strategy behind Dream Dinners is that all ingredients are fresh and prepped in one of their franchise locations.

Stephanie Allen, Co-Founder of Dream Dinners, conceived the concept and implemented it with a friend, Tina Kuna, with an initial $10,000 investment. There are now 50+ franchises across the country.

In an outlet, busy parents or individuals who don't have time to shop for groceries, plan their meals each week, pick the meals they want and simply assemble them to prepare a month's worth of meals.

At home, the assembled meals are then frozen until they're ready to eat, thaw them and then cook the prepped meal.

Dream Dinners saves families and individuals up to 10 hours a week by completing the hardest part of dinner for them, the shopping and prepping.

Allen explains how she got the idea for business: “I saw the trials of busy family life, first hand as a mother of two and through my involvement in MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), which helped inspire me to create Dream Dinners as a solution to the dinnertime dilemma. I first began making fix-and-freeze meals for my family in 1986.

“By preparing and freezing dinners using fresh raw ingredients, I improved on traditional pre-cooked methods resulting in meals that simply tasted better.  I honed the process for efficiency and began developing a collection of specialized “dream dinners” recipes,” She continues.

“Having shared my ‘secret recipes’ with some friends, I soon became deluged with requests to expand my time-saving meal assembly solutions with others.  When the demand became overwhelming, I enlisted the help of long-time friend and experienced business manager, Tina Kuna.  Together we hosted the first series of large-scale meal assembly sessions in 2002, which became the catalyst for opening the first Dream Dinners store,” she adds.

With the start of the business cam some immediate problems.

“The overwhelming immediate growth was difficult to manage; we created systems as we went without having any other business model to draw from.  Creating new systems continues to be our biggest hurdle and opportunity; we are unlike anything else in the food/service industry,” she says.

Reinvesting revenue into growth and an SBA loan helped them in their critical first years.

Now they focus on helping to change how American moms prepare meals and bring the family back to the dinner table.

As she says, “We are empowering America’s Moms to recreate their childhood for their children.  If she doesn’t know how to cook (over 80% of Mom’s don’t know how), then having her family around the dinner table with a meal that she has created and served doesn’t seem possible”

“If we could tell her how easy it is and serve her with our meal assembly process, the impediments to growth would be eliminated. Communicating our unique solution to the consumer’s need is the greatest impediment for any small business,”

Her plans to overcome this come in a multi-pronged strategy built around what we call a “Core Four Methodology”.  Her defined strategies for increasing:

  • Guest Acquisition through existing and new channels,
  • Embedded loyalty programs that are increasing Guest Retention
  • Product expansion (sides, starches, desserts, etc…) that will Increase Average Tickets, and lastly
  • A robust automation of systems and processes that Reduce Costs and Complexity while eliminating customer barriers making it easier to do business with us.

By combining these four areas, she hopes to expand her customer base by stopping the flow of customers that leave the business while increasing the flow of new customers into stores. 

She hopes to increase the average ticket while reducing operating costs, to self-fund brand expansion.  In the end, she can borrow money, but believes revenue is the cheapest form of capital available.

Allen believes by implementing these Core Four methodology five years ago she has now experienced five straight years of growth, doubled average revenues per store and reduced operating costs more than 25% in operating units.

Her advice to others include great passion, brilliant minds and inexperienced managers. 

“What makes entrepreneurs great generally stems from a mix of genius, passion and fear, and it is the fear that can get in the way of growth as well as managing others.  The single most important step they need to take to scale is elusive for this specific reason,” she says. 

“They need to bring in someone that is an experienced leader, strong manager and aligns with their passion and purpose.  They need to build a structure that protects their investment, trust someone to take it the next level and then give that individual authority to achieve their collective goals, she adds.

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