Mom cuts into growing business of meal assembly

Nathan Denette/canadian press


Sanyo Lue-Kim, owner of Just Add Heat, left, and customer Angela Roode prepare food. Lue-Kim opened the store for people with busy schedules, but still enjoy cooking and making healthy meals for themselves and their families.

“The business has drawn families in and they are amazed at how easy and fun it is to assemble their own meals — and how reasonable it is cost-wise.”

Sanyo Lue-Kim was on holiday in Seattle in 2005 and was looking for a place to have lunch when she stumbled on a meal assembly kitchen that changed her life.

“The owners showed me around and I was really impressed and a little jealous that we didn’t have anything like this close to home,” says Lue-Kim, who at the time was on maternity leave from her job at a television distribution company.

She did some research into the new food service concept — providing busy families with wholesome, gourmet dinners which they can assemble themselves — and now she and partner Jesse Belluz are at the helm of a growing business.

Just Add Heat, located in Oakville, is in a strip mall adjacent to the perfect ingredients to draw customers: A day-care centre, a fitness facility and a hockey rink are all right across the road.

“We chose the spot for its visibility and demographics,” says Lue-Kim, 42.

“The business has drawn families in and they are amazed at how easy and fun it is to assemble their own meals — and how reasonable it is cost-wise.”

Stepping into Just Add Heat is a visual pleasure. Lue-Kim and Belluz have put their personal stamp on the clean, uncluttered facility with several rows of stainless-steel prep stations. Each one holds containers for ingredients and all the tools needed to put together the various meals customers have chosen ahead of time.

Customers can visit the firm’s website at www.justaddheat.caand sign in as a member to reserve a session. Sessions must be booked a minimum of 48 hours in advance.

Once that is done, they can browse through the many entrees offered monthly.

“In less than two hours you can prepare up to 12 family-sized entrees,” says Lue-Kim, “or one hour for six entrees.” Cost per meal runs from $25 to about $34 for six servings.

When the customers arrive for their booked sessions, they find the ingredients for the meals they’ve chosen have been chopped and prepared by the staff, who will also offer assistance to the customer to assemble the dishes.

“Everything is ready and waiting so the customer simply assembles the meal as shown and they’re done,” she says.

“The entrees can be frozen for later consumption on a busy night when working parents are too tired to cook. They just have to follow the thawing and heating instructions and dinner is on the table in no time.”

Customers don’t have to tidy up after they assemble the meals. This is done by the staff.

“We get teenaged daughters here with their moms to help assemble meals,” Lue-Kim says. “We’ve had people order gift certificates for their friends or relatives who are having babies, getting married or for aging parents who aren’t able to cook for themselves the way they used to.”

The customers only use the facility about once a month, says Lue-Kim. And they get a discount on their next visit if they book a session before they leave. The service also offers ready-made frozen entrees for sale.

Lue-Kim thinks the meal preparation concept is an idea whose time has come.

“It’s a great time-saver for people on the go who want to eat well,” she says.

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