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Dinners to go
Business dishes up food and friendship
dream dinners 6 es
Customers Christy Krohn, left, and Janene Kirkland chat as they prepare meals recently at Dream Dinners - photo by Emily Saunders
Friends that bake together succeed together. At least that’s how it worked for three Forsyth County friends.

Five years ago, Penny Baker, Julee Safstrom and Laurie Walton met every month at Dream Dinners to prepare meals for their families.

The three stay-at-home moms had such a fun time on their monthly social cooking encounters, they decided a year later to buy the franchise.

Going from staying at home with their children to re-entering the business world was a big leap, Baker said. But skills from their past employment lives in human resources, marketing and technology helped smooth the transition.

Believing in their business and being their own customers also helped, she said.

“We feel like what we’re doing is making a difference,” she said. “The idea of families sitting down together around a good meal and strengthening families was just something we could feel good about.”

Dream Dinners, founded in 2002, has grown to include more than 160 franchises.

The average customer spends about two hours a month at the store, working around 14 food stations, each containing ingredients to make one entrée. Customers follow simple recipe instructions, adding ingredients to a freezer bag.

“When you assemble it yourself, you can tweak it, so if your family doesn’t like ginger, you can leave that out, or you can add extra cheese,” Baker said.

“We also have some customers who don’t have the time ... so every Thursday we prepare meals for them so all they have to do is come in and pick them up.”

Most customers prepare 12 meals per month, which are taken home and frozen until they are cooked for dinner. Recipes are designed specifically to be freezer friendly, Walton said.

Cook time can range from 10 to 15 minutes on a grill or 45 minutes to an hour in the oven.

“It just makes planning dinner so much easier,” said regular customer Janene Kirkland. “I’ve eaten things here that I would have never made at home.

“I’m one of their biggest fans. I tell everyone I know.”

Among the friends she’s told is Christy Krohn, who admits her favorite part about the concept is the social aspect.

“I like to come with a girlfriend and we chat the whole time. It’s kind of like a girls night out,” she said. “I like to think that I’m getting something done.

“Here, not only am I socializing, but I’m accomplishing something too, so it’s not that I just go and talk for the whole time. And I can come home with something.”

The three owners of the Cumming franchise continue to be their own customers, along with about 160 other people. Some, said Walton, bring their children, who enjoy watching or helping their parent measure and pour.

All ingredients are pre-sliced, sorted and there’s no cleaning involved, Baker said.

“We do all the cleanup, so that’s a huge perk for a lot of folks,” she said. “We cover dinner three nights a week, so they don’t have to worry what’s for dinner. It’s just a totally different way of planning your meals.”

The cost can range from $150 to $250 for 12 dinners, depending on how many servings and which meals are chosen.

Kirkland said most of the people she’s told about Dream Dinners say, ‘Wow, that’s a little pricey.’”

“But what I’ve found is that I spend a lot less at the grocery store when I do this,” she said.

Walton said the meals are priced per entrée.

“So if you wanted to go heavy on the steaks and shrimp, it’s going to be a little bit more than if you were more cost conscious and choose pork and chicken,” she said.

Baker said the concept cuts down on grocery store trips, impulse buying and overeating. The meals also can be tweaked for vegetarians, those with heart issues and customers with diabetes.

Many of the meals also fall within WeightWatchers and other diet systems’ guidelines.

“It’s so easy to live an unhealthy lifestyle,” Baker said. “We’ve got to make some efforts for helping with tasty recipes, especially for our kids. They are so bombarded with fast foods, but this is something that I know is going to be healthy for them.”

E-mail Jennifer Sami at