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Dream Dinners founders urging focus on ‘The Hour That Matters Most'

Dream Dinners founders find themselves on the best-seller list

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By M.L. Dehm
Special to the Herald
  • Stephanie Allen (left) and Tina Kuna are the co-authors of "The Hour That Matters Most."

    Annie Mulligan / For SCBJ

    Stephanie Allen (left) and Tina Kuna are the co-authors of "The Hour That Matters Most."

SNOHOMISH -- Entrepreneurs Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna have parlayed the success of their Dream Dinners business into a spot on The New York Times Best Sellers list.
"The Hour That Matters Most," which Allen and Kuna co-wrote with Les and Leslie Parrot, has debuted at No. 1 on the Times list for paperback advice books.
"I get goose bumps every time I think of it," Kuna said.
Allen said she had hoped to make the list but never imagined the book would debut in the top slot.
"The Hour That Matters Most" is an easy-to-read collection of advice and anecdotes designed to help today's family reconnect over dinner.
While there has been a lot of research to demonstrate the importance of families eating together, Allen and Kuna noted, most of what has been written so far simply makes women feel guilty because it doesn't explain to them how to fit that family dinner into their busy lives.
The authors wanted to avoid the guilt trip and concentrate instead on teaching parents how to provide regular family meals and guide conversation in a positive way. They also touch on effective ways of teaching manners.
Allen and Kuna are experts when it comes to finding time to provide sit-down dinners for their families. The business partners are the founders of Dream Dinners -- probably the best known meal assembly service in the country -- and are said to be the originators of the concept.
At Dream Dinners locations, customers are able to quickly and easily assemble a dozen or so dinner entrees in about an hour. These are then taken home and frozen or refrigerated to be used as convenient meals.
There is no planning or shopping required. Dream Dinners employees lay out the ingredients, handle all of the cleanup and answer questions, offer assistance or grab additional bowls, spoons or tongs if needed.
The store is set up like a series of salad bars. The ingredients are prepped and ready for assembly. Disposable bags or pans are provided. The recipe is on a card above each station. Guests simply follow the instructions and assemble the ingredients for the entree in the provided containers. A card with cooking instructions is then placed with each meal.
Meals can be slightly adjusted according to taste. For example, mothers with young children may want to leave out red pepper flakes or jalapenos. Cheese can be omitted for those sensitive to dairy products.
Menu options change each month. Food descriptions and nutritional information are available online in advance. They're not "diet" meals, but they are billed as nutritionally sound and a healthier alternative to fast food and eating out.
Entrees vary in cost from $11.99 for some three-portion dishes up to $36.99 for a sesame-marinated flank steak for six. There is a minimum purchase requirement of the equivalent of 36 portions during a scheduled session. For an additional cost, Dream Dinners employees will prepare meals for customers to pick up.
Allen created the concept while trying to balance life as a caterer and a soccer mom. For years, she would get together with a friend and prepare the majority of her family dinners in advance. She always had a meal ready to pop in the oven after a game. Other soccer moms asked how she did it.
Kuna was one of those friends who asked for some dinner preparation tips. As a businesswoman, she was quick to see the potential when she and Allen hosted a "girl's night out" to prep meals and, without advertising, they were swamped with requests to join.
The business started in earnest in 2002, and within a year, Allen and Kuna found themselves on the cover of Working Mother magazine. More media coverage followed, including television appearances on the "Nate Berkus Show" and other programs.
This generated even more interest and led to Dream Dinners franchises popping up around the country.
Today, Dream Dinners has 105 stores in 30 states. According to Allen, customers are cooking up 700,000 servings a month. There is a Snohomish County franchise in Mill Creek Town Center. The company headquarters is in downtown Snohomish.
While "The Hour That Matters Most" mentions Dream Dinners, it does not promote the business. It offers ideas of how people can do it at home.
"Times have changed," Kuna said. "We're not June Cleaver or even our own mothers, who might have had dinner on the table every night. Life has changed and we need to learn to adapt."
Kuna and Allen hope their book will help people to do just that.
Meet the authors
A book signing for Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna's book, "The Hour That Matters Most," and an open house will take place from 5 to 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 18, at Dream Dinners company headquarters, 610 First St., Snohomish.*
* Correction, Nov. 3, 2011: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect address.
Story tags » SnohomishLocally Based CompanyMediaRestaurants & cateringNutritionFoodFamily



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