It's As Simple as 1, 2, 3
March 29, 2008

Think about a day without chopping and shopping. How about a week or a month without all that preparation for making a meal?

A new business in town is serving up a menu of entrees ready for customers to assemble and cook in their own homes.

Entrees Made Easy provides quality meals at affordable prices, allowing more time for customers to spend on other activities. The shop is located at 1879 Black Rock Turnpike at the corner of Katona Drive, in the rear of the building housing Billy's Bakery. This food business offers a unique concept in which customers can choose a half-size meal portion serving two or three people for $17 or a full-size meal to feed four to six for $29..

The franchise corporation is headquartered in Arizona. The Fairfield store is the second in Connecticut. The first opened in Monroe, where Nina Boynton, one of the Fairfield store owners, had been a customer. Through her own experience buying meals, Boynton saw the franchise as a great business opportunity. She amassed a group of women, representing a range of professional skills and expertise, who became partners in the new business endeavor.

In addition to Boynton, the partners are Michelle Larkins, a graduate of Fairfield University with a Master in Business Administration in finance; Virginia Longley, a Fairfield resident with 20 years' experience in marketing; Melissa Trumbore, whose background includes experience in finance and project management; Elizabeth Barnes, who has been in the restaurant industry for more than 20 years; Janice Feher, who teaches at Fairfield's Learning Co-op; and Roxanne Harrison, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, who has extensive experience as a head chef and corporate chef, as well as catering.

"If you're not into cooking, you don't have to think about a recipe. You just throw the bag away," said Boynton, a reference to the plastic bag in which customers place their ingredients for assembling the meal. Boynton likes the idea of cooking the meal at home because everything is fresh.

"You don't have to think about what's for dinner," Boynton said. Buying a meal at Entrees Made Easy saves cost and time and, above all, is nutritional, she said.

While researching the business at the Monroe store, Boynton met a woman who said she had saved more than $300 in her food bill for her family of four.

Corey Reilly, the shop's chef and manager, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. His responsibilities include the ordering, butchering, supervising and making the variety of sauces. He comes from a background in catering and working as a corporate chef.

From personal experience, Reilly said he and his wife, the parents of two children, are enthusiastic about the concept of Entrees Made Easy. He found that he and his wife would go grocery shopping and end up shopping for and eating the same meals every week.

All of the entrees are prepared from fresh, quality meats, cheeses and vegetables. Everything is homemade with all marinades, sauces and seasonings prepared from scratch in the on-site kitchen where the staff preps fresh ingredients.

Each month the shop offers a new menu of entrees. The March menu offers Cassoulet, Mushroom Smothered Roast Beef, Brandywine Chicken, Crustless Quiche Lorraine, Beef Stroganoff, Walnut Crusted Pork Loin, Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup, Apricot Glazed Port Medallions, Pasta Pomodora with Broccoli, Herbed Shrimp, French Chicken, Chicken Parmigiana, Teriyaki Chicken, Pecan Crusted Tilapia and Parmesan Chicken Bake.

The April menu will be Santa Fe Tortilla Soup, Crispy Chicken Strips, Stuffed Pork Loin, Cherry Glazed Port Tenderloin, Savory Flank Steak, Shepherd's Pie, Oven Roasted Salmon, Tuscan Smoked Chicken, Thai Honey Chicken, Chicken Piccata, Pasta Florentine, Creamy Pesto Chicken, Tropical Chicken, Pineapple Pork Chops, and Tilapia in Lemon-Rosemary Sauce.

Boynton noticed since the shop's opening that customers are requesting more vegetable entrees, which she said, will be on the menu.

The entrees are presented at stations, similar to a salad bar. Each station offers the recipe. The customer decides whether to assemble the amount of ingredients for a half-size or a full-six meal and then begins the process of gathering the fresh ingredients into a plastic bag. The ingredients for each entrée is set in open compartments with measuring spoons and cups for scooping out the proper quantity. At each station, the meat for the entree is kept in refrigerators below the assortment of ingredients.

After assembling the ingredients into the plastic bag, the customer brings the bag to a staffer, who checks it and then issues any "side," such as bread, noodles, potatoes or a vegetable that may come with the entrée. Once the ingredients are assembled in a bag, the customer is given directions for assembling and cooking.

Customers can come to the shop and assemble their own entrees or for an additional fee they can fax, call in or e-mail an order and staffers will assemble the entrée. If customers do not want to take the time to assemble, they can also buy entrees ready frozen for cooking.

"A lot of families are bringing in their children," Boynton said. "When children assemble their own entrees, they are more apt to try the dish."

"This is incredible," said Marie Alimena of Fairfield, who visited the store recently with her friend, Fran Harris. Alimena's daughter, Michele Varrone, owns Salon V, a nearby hair salon. "This is what people need if they are in a hurry, or even if they are not," Alimena said.

Feher summed up the key to success of Entrees Made Easy: "[The shop] cuts down on the prep time for wholesome meals. You don't have to do a lot of work. Customers prepare a home-cooked meal without putting in the time. It's a quality meal."

Entrees Made Easy also sells desserts including a Moten Lave Cake, a peanut Butter Chocolate Cake and a Vanilla Dream Cheesecake, packed in servings of three.

Entrees Made Easy is also open for private parties. There is a minimum of eight people required to have an exclusive party. Guests must be signed up at least three days in advance of the party.

The hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For information, call 572-0140.