Main Dish Kitchen gets cookin’

As a nation, we have allowed family dinners to decline. Regardless of the reason for the disappearing family dinner, owners Gene and Joyce Van Koevering and their son Greg of Main Dish Kitchen, opening this month in Traverse City, are committed to reversing this trend.

"Main Dish Kitchen is a way to get a nutritious meal on the table instead of just pizza or going to the drive-through for burgers and fries," Joyce Van Koevering pointed out.

A franchise that started in Holland, Mich. in September of 2004, Main Dish Kitchen is part of the growing phenomenon of meal assembly stores that has been sweeping the country over the past three years. The Easy Meal Preparation Association has identified 178 Meal Facilitation and Preparation companies and 410 stores as of September 2005.

Meal assembly businesses allow customers to gather in commercial kitchens and cycle through individual entree stations, assembling prepared raw ingredients and following easy recipes for up to 12 meals. No meals are cooked at Main Dish Kitchen; instead customers pack up the assembled entrees in freezer containers, take them home, put them in the freezer and get them out to cook when needed.

"There are a number of unique features that drew us into this franchise," Gene Van Koevering emphasized. For one, the corporate chef the Main Dish Kitchen support center in Holland has on its staff. Pete Webster develops a new menu every month and the main store in Holland runs his menu first for a month. Subsequently, the remaining stores in the franchise run the menu. Therefore, Holland has become a testing ground of sorts for the new month's choices.

"In a sense, we get the best of the best. We're not trying out things. We're getting a developed and tested product," Van Koevering explained.

Another benefit of Main Dish Kitchen is the training.

"It's very extensive training, developed by the franchise center…how we handle the food, how we handle the customer, customer service is number one, and how we get the customer to enjoy the food, the social activity and the preparation of it," he added.

An additional feature is the Group Coordinator Club, where a person has an opportunity to sign up to be a group coordinator and pick a date and session in the future, filling that session with friends, family and colleagues. If the person brings in 11 other customers for that session, he or she gets it free.

The final feature unique to Main Dish Kitchen is the Meals with a Mission initiative. "This is where, at each session, 12 additional meals are made by our customers…free of charge," Joyce Van Koevering explained. "We cover the cost of those 12 meals. Six of those meals will be picked up the following morning from our charity of the day…charities that I am working on right now in the Traverse City area." The other six can be given away by a consensus of the customers in the session, either to new moms, a neighbor with cancer, someone with a death in the family, or a senior citizen, etc.

Sessions are typically 5 and 8 p.m. Monday thru Friday, with sessions also offered during the day and on Saturday. The price for a session is $195 for 12 meals of four to six servings or split into 24 meals of smaller servings and an express session of six meals for $97.50.

Always Prepared was the first entree preparation store to open in Traverse City. It opened last spring at Munson Ave. by Tom's East Bay store. Owners Natalie and Jeff Terrell host at least one session a day, with attendance from all walks, singles, moms, groups, senior citizens etc.

Main Dish Kitchen is located at 1780 S. Garfield in the Cherryland Center. Call 935-4635 for more information. BN