As you enter the brightly colored Let's Dish! storefront you're struck by the fact that it's so neat and organized. There's nothing to slice and nothing to dice. There are rows and rows of refrigerated prep stations that look a lot like stainless steel salad bars.
Company co-founder, Ruth Lundquist, walks along the aisles and points out the prepared ingredients for dishes like Bourbon Glazed Salmon and Asian Barbecued Pork Wraps.
"Everything is laid out here for you. All of the measuring utensils are in the ingredients," Lundquist says.
Let's Dish! prides itself on doing everything it can to help customers speed through the dinner making process. There's no searching through cookbooks for family-friendly recipes. A customer just logs onto the company website and selects the dishes they want to make. Next they make an appointment for themselves or a group of friends to come into the store.
Kelly Keegan of Apple Valley, a mother of four and a first time "disher", says deciding to make an appointment was an impulse.
"I was having lunch at Panera with my girlfriend and we said, 'Wouldn't it be nice if we could get eight meals done in an hour-and-a-half? Let's do it!'"
Keegan is making meals for her family and will also give some to her recently widowed mother. Keegan says her mother has not felt like cooking or eating healthy meals lately. She's sure the mozzarella stuffed Italian Meatloaves she's making will be a hit. Keegan follows the recipe for the dish by looking at the directions encased in a large plastic frame on the prep station.
Marie Marcucci, of Apple Valley is the mother of two older children, and she's making Mediterranean Shrimp and Artichoke pasta she'll serve during her next dinner party.
"I hate grocery shopping. I hate planning meals. But I like to cook. So it's kind of the best of both worlds," Marcucci said.
Each meal serves four to six people and averages out to about $3 per serving.
Janine Olson, is a mother of three teenagers who sees Let's Dish! as an alternative to fast food restaurants.
"The only reason we eat junk food so much and fast food so much is because it's so convenient and quick. This way we'll have something at home and pop in the oven quick," Olson said.
Ruth Lundquist, says Let's Dish! is tapping into a trend the company is calling 'productive leisure'. That means people can catch up with friends while doing a household task. It's sort of multi-tasking with a spatula. In summer months, she sees many groups who make their meals before heading to the cabin.
"What we've been surprised about is not only does it work for busy families with children at home, but we see a lot of empty nesters. A lot of people are coming in and it's not as much fun or there's not that reward to cook for just one or two people anymore, so Let's Dish! is still a great way to have that great quality food, homemade food that they made without all the work that they would have gone to before." Lunquist said.
Janine Olson has been working her way around the prep stations and in about an hour she has several meals ready to put in her home refrigerator.
"I can't believe what a good cook I am, when I don't have to clean up and I don't have to chop," she says. "I'm just whipping through here and I'm making a ton of meals and they're good meals, too."
Ruth Lundquist says she likes hearing the positive comments and the self esteem boost people get from making so many meals.
"My favorite response was from a customer who was so excited about what she had done, this was when we first opened our first store in Eden Prairie. She got done with her session and she literally did the splits in the lobby of our store," she says. "I was impressed that she could do that, but I was also really pleased that she was that enthusiastic about it."
Let's Dish! opened it's first store in Eden Prairie in 2003 and has four other locations in the Twin Cities suburbs. The company has already begun expanding nationally.