Chery Martinez, a return customer at Entrées Made Easy in Mesa, quickly sums up the attraction. “I love it because I’m actually cooking dinner again,” says the Mesa woman, who shows up at the one-year-old business on a recent Friday night with daughters Destiny, 10, and Gabby, 9.
For the next hour or so, they assemble meals from “stations” of prepped food. They will leave with almost a month’s worth of dinners such as Hoisin Pork Medallions and Ranchero Bake, a Southwestern chicken casserole, in containers labeled with cooking instructions.
“They shop for you, they clean, they do the prep work,” says Cheryl Carlin, Destiny and Gabby’s grandmother, of Mesa. “It’s fabulous.”
About a dozen quick-meal businesses have cropped up in the East Valley in less time than it takes to grow a lemon. Though the majority of these services belong to the same category as Entrées Made Easy, in which customers assemble the meals for reheating later, some make meals that you pick up. Still others do all the cooking and deliver to your door. A personal chef service will cook your favorite dishes at your home, leaving you to decide which ones go into the freezer and which get eaten right away.
Cindy Rogalski, owner of Designed Dinners, a franchise started in her previous home of Washington state, says the new industry is nothing but growth. She opened her Gilbert store this year and is already talking about buying another franchise.
“The trend is pre-assembled meals that people can still sit down with their families and eat,” she says.
Carlin, who came to fix dinners for her husband and herself, offers yet another advantage — the mental work behind supper.
“When we get home, I don’t have to sweat about what I’m going to fix.”
Here’s a look at what you’ll get at different quick-meal places — and what the convenience costs:
YOU HOST, THEY COOK, YOU HEAT
Personal Chef Service (480) 343-0274
Brief description: Personal chef Sara Ivarson cooks a week’s worth of meals in your own kitchen, allowing you to decide which meals to freeze and which to heat and serve right away. Sample entree: Virtually anything the customer craves. Cost: $325 for five meals with side dishes.
THEY COOK, THEY DELIVER, YOU HEAT
The Kings Kitchen
Brief description: Meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) arrive cool or frozen with heating directions. Can arrange for a subscription or order daily.
Sample entrees: Beef Brisket or Broiled Salmon With Whole Grain Mustard and Sage Crust. Sample salads: Salad Nicoise or Janie’s Egg Salad.
Cost: Entrees priced separately from salads, sides and desserts. A large entree, which feeds three to four people, is $38. Minimum delivery order is $25.
THEY COOK, YOU PICK UP, YOU HEAT
1120 S. Gilbert Road, Suite 103, Gilbert, (480) 784-7872
Brief description: Customers can put together meals or, for an extra $25, have them assembled. Just pick up meals at an arranged time and heat.
Sample entrees: Angel Hair Pasta With Pan Seared Sea Scallops; Chipotle BBQ Beef Shortribs. No side dishes, unless in the dish.
Cost: $199 for 12 meals, each serving four people
THEY PREP, YOU COOK, YOU TAKE HOME, YOU HEAT
Entrées Made Easy
4437 E. Southern Ave., Suite 101, Mesa, (480) 396-0092 7704 E. Doubletree Ranch Road, Suite 115, Scottsdale, (480) 991-7300
Brief description: Customers assemble 12 meals in Entrées Made Easy kitchens in about two hours. Everything is pre-chopped, simmered, sautéed, etc.
Sample entrees: Herb Chicken with a side of vegetables; Sicilian Pork Chops with a side of steamed rice.
Cost: $215 for 12 meals, each serving four to six people
OTHER "YOU FIX IT" OPTIONS
-- A Simple Gourmet Supper Club: 2740 S. Alma School Road, Mesa, (480) 982-0971
-- Dinners Done Right: 5055 W. Ray Road, Chandler, (480) 753-9096 or www.dinnersdoneright.com
-- My Girlfriend's Kitchen: 1325 N. Greenfield Road, Mesa, (480) 325-6435; 1395 W. Warner Road, Gilbert, (480) 539-0399 or www.mgfk.com
-- Dream Dinners, 2823 N. Power Road, Mesa, (480) 641-6234 or www.dreamdinners.com
OTHER PERSONAL CHEF SERVICE
Nourish, (602) 330-5476 or www.nourishpcs.com
SPECIFIC DIET MEALS DELIVERED
Sunfare, (623) 582-0588 or www.sunfare.com
THEY MAKE, THEY DELIVER
Mom's Main Dish