By Sharon Allen Gilder
Imagine eliminating the nightmare of planning and preparing meals. Imagine no shopping, chopping or prep work. Just over a decade ago, Dream Dinners made those visions a reality when it opened its doors in October 2007 at 8927A Fingerboard Road. The dinner assembly store is the independently owned and operated franchise of cousins Tracey Muragaki and Jamie Carr.
With the tagline “homemade, made easy,” the business is designed to save families time and money when it comes to putting dinner on the table. Muragaki said there can “be guilt associated with feeding your family fast food on a regular basis; it’s not healthy, there’s no ownership. We provide an environment where guests can come and prepare six or 12 dinners from scratch and feel ownership, feel good about what they’re putting on the table in front of their family and also, they’re eating healthy, nutritious meals.”
A 2007 Food Network segment about meal assembly companies bringing families back together around the dinner table piqued Muragaki’s interest. She began reviewing the concept and wanted something “like that in my community, not only available for my family, but I thought there were a lot of families in need of that kind of service. She presented the idea to Carr, they visited a Dream Dinners store, and “we took a chance and did it! We’ve been around for 10 years now so we’re doing something right and we know we’re helping a lot of people get dinner on the table easily, so it feels good,” said Carr.
Guests register online to book a day and time for their food assembly session at the Frederick store and place their order. Menus change monthly and are posted online with nutritional information. Some entrees come with made-from-scratch side dishes as noted on the menus. Cost varies depending on the entrees selected, which allows guests to customize choices within their budget. Muragaki said meals average $5 per serving. A Made For You option carries a $20 service charge where staff prepare the guest’s order in advance for pick-up.
Booking a session is worth a thousand words to see firsthand how the assembly stations are set up with recipe cards listing ingredients and color-coded measuring cups. Meals go home either in store-supplied zip-top storage bags or baking pans for guests to freeze at home, then thaw and cook as needed.
For newcomers who want to give Dream Dinners a try there’s an online Introductory Offer. For $84.99 guests can make three six-serving dinners or six three-serving dinners in 15 to 30 minutes. “You can literally burn through a recipe card and have a meal in 50 seconds because we’ve done all the prep work, and then after that meal’s made we do all the cleanup,” noted Muragaki. She said the majority of guests are in the store one hour each month to make 6 or 12 family dinners.
Ijamsville resident Shannon McKenzie has been a Dream Dinners client since its inception. A busy wife and mom of three, McKenzie is a Montgomery County Public Schools teacher and owns the local preschool, Smarty Pants. “Dream Dinners has been a lifesaver on many, many very busy nights. It definitely saves time and, when you’re on the run so much, you tend to do the quick, easy meals but, in that same amount of time that you swing by a drive-through, we can have a healthier meal cooked at home,” shared McKenzie. She has a daughter with food allergies and is especially appreciative of being able to “tweak” the ingredients “because I’m actually making it myself, not buying a prepackaged meal.”
One of the missions of the founders of Dream Dinners is to grow great kids. “We are invested in that, too, because we really do believe that the dinner hour, whether it’s 10 minutes, 20 minutes, or an hour, whatever it is for your family, that time once a day is really so important just to connect as a family. It’s not just dinner, it’s about growing the family, it’s about growing great kids, teaching them about family and talking and being together,” Carr said.
The store offers Dream Taste events as fundraisers for local non-profits and high school sports teams where participants pay $34.99 to make three medium meals that each serve three people. Ten dollars of the fee is donated to the specific cause. Muragaki, whose mother is a pastor, said she was raised to have “a serving heart. It seems like a win-win to kind of serve and give back.” The co-owners, who give anonymously to the Urbana and Frederick Food Banks, also wanted to pursue a cause to “try and do our part to make the world a little bit better place. Because we’re a female, family-owned business we chose breast cancer.” Dream Dinners makes meals for breast cancer patients within a 50-mile radius of the store through designations from The Red Devils non-profit.
“We’re here for less stress and more time with your family,” said Carr. “Everybody wants to provide a healthy dinner at a great price. Guests get to go home with a month’s worth of meals to help make their lives easier.”
Muragaki added, “We’re about bringing families back together around the dinner table, and that family could be empty nesters, newlyweds, or parents of two.”
Carr said, “Urbana is definitely a very family friendly, growing great kids type atmosphere as well, so it feels good to be tied into a community like that.”
For more information, visit dreamdinners.com/frederickmd.