Prepared meals-to-go help busy families fight ‘the dinner dilemma’
Richmond Community Kitchen offers locally-sourced prepared meals from their space in Blue Seal Feeds building on Bridge Street.
GLENN RUSSELL/FREE PRESS
Richmond Community Kitchen looks like an inviting restaurant with its thick, light-wood tables, warm, partially open kitchen and stack of board games tempting visitors from a corner of the dining room.
Richmond Community Kitchen is many things, but sit-down restaurant is not its thing. The business that opened in September is one of the newer entries in the growing trend of prepared meals, or meals to-go, which let busy families swing by and pick up healthy lunches and dinners for that day or days to come.
Co-owner Amy Gifford said Richmond Community Kitchen offers cooking classes, assemble-your-own-sandwich stations, pop-up dinners and rentals for private parties and other gatherings. The business inside the former Sonoma Station restaurant even lets people hang out, working on their computers while drinking coffee and eating food they brought from nearby restaurants. One part of the business, though, rises above all others.
“Prepared meals are the cornerstone,” said Gifford, who began Richmond Community Kitchen with Susan Whitman out of Gifford’s home in Richmond more than two years ago. “People are crazy about them. We can’t keep up.”
Richmond Community Kitchen echoes nationwide models such as Blue Apron, which ships ingredients and suggested recipes to customers’ homes for them to assemble meals themselves. Other businesses in Vermont provide complete meals for customers to take home, including Blossom Whole Food Kitchen and Catering in Winooski and Fiddleheads Cuisine in Moretown.
Amy Gifford chops carrots as she does prep work at the Richmond Community Kitchen on Wednesday, February 28, 2018. She and her business partner Susan Whitman started selling prepared meals from their homes before moving into their new space. (Photo: GLENN RUSSELL/FREE PRESS)
The concept of taking meals home, of course, is not a new one. McDonald’s mass-produced meals took root in the 1950s and pizza deliveries remain a staple of American family dinners. Gifford said the trend is for busy families who don’t have time to make dinner from scratch seeking healthier grab-and-go meals.
Her own eureka moment came when she had her first child (she now has boys ages 14 and 11) and thought about the food he was putting in his little body.
“The last decade has seen such a growth in people paying attention to what’s being put in their bodies and where it’s grown,” Gifford said.
Richmond Community Kitchen offers frozen to-go meals made largely from local ingredients that cover pretty much all the bases, from calzones and burritos to soups, stews and casseroles, all available for vegans, vegetarians and omnivores. Dairy-free and gluten-free options are available.
“I’m not bound to any menu day in and day out,” Gifford said, though availability of ingredients can sometimes be a problem, as it was on Tuesday when she didn’t have any of her popular chicken enchiladas in stock. “That’s, like, mutiny-inducing.”
The meatball calzone at Richmond Community Kitchen comes with thin, fresh King Arthur Flour dough filled with compact hunks of ground beef. A smidge of ricotta gives the calzone a slight lasagna vibe.
At Blossom in Winooski, the sweet-and-sour chicken on rice comes with thick chunks of chicken and piles of vegetables reflecting the plant-based focus of owner Tessa Blossom Holmes’ rotating menu. The plain cardboard box housing Tuesday’s lunch brightened visually and on the tongue with ample squares of red bell pepper and rounds of green onion on a weighty bed of rice.
Holmes began Blossom as a meals-to-go concept from her home before moving into space on Winooski Falls Way a year and a half ago. She never really wanted a restaurant, preferring event catering, serving lunches and providing a community space where people can gather.
Blossom is open three days a week, and meals-to-go are a big part of Holmes’ business. “It’s happening in the whole country, finally. People caught up to me,” she said, laughing, as she discussed the planned-meal trend. “It’s a whole movement.”
Customers kept Blossom busy in its first half-hour late Tuesday morning, and all came to take away boxes filled with meals. “On a very basic level, everything tastes amazing,” regular customer Michelle Paschall of South Burlington said.
“I have just always loved Tessa’s food. She’s just really creative,” said another frequent visitor, Nari Penson of Winooski. She came to know that food when Henson worked at The Schoolhouse in South Burlington, where Penson teaches. “Everybody has very busy schedules these days so sometimes it’s hard to cook whole food, and it’s nice to have a place like this.”
Lisa Mason has operated Fiddleheads Cuisine out of her home in Moretown for seven years. “I just saw a need for this kind of alternative to take-out” in the Mad River Valley, said Mason, whose business has doubled in seven years to about 80 servings of food a week and now includes the Montpelier area.
She serves her vegetarian meals two days a week and does so CSA-style, delivering prepared meals to customers on Mondays and Thursdays. Thursday’s menu featured black bean, sweet potato and mozzarella quesadillas as well as Spanish rice, avocado and corn salsa and maple Rice Krispies.
“I try and push people a little bit but also have things they’re comfortable with,” Mason said.
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Mason said Fiddleheads Cuisine began when she recognized “the dinner dilemma” busy families face when they come home and realize they haven’t prepared any food. “I think there is a huge growing need for convenient dinner options,” Mason said. “The more convenient it can be to eat well, the better.”
Gifford and Whitman have found that in Richmond as well. When they make 70 trays of those popular chicken enchiladas they’re gone within a week and a half. The two women, who run Richmond Community Kitchen with their husbands, recently hired an employee to help prepare and assemble food 32 hours a week.
The prepared meals, cooking classes and community events are part of the holistic plan for Richmond Community Kitchen. “Our vision is to provide a continuum of services around feeding yourself and your family well,” Gifford said. “The key for us is building community around food.”
Contact Brent Hallenbeck at 660-1844 or [email protected] Follow Brent on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BrentHallenbeck. Support local journalism in Vermont by downloading our app or subscribing to the Burlington Free Press.
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