Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Benicia Dream Dinners Dishes Up New Meal Options

Benicia Dream Dinners Dishes Up New Meal Options
They Chop, Chop; Clients Assemble, Cook, Serve
By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN/Times-Herald staff writer

BENICIA DREAM DINNERS co-owners Esther Hussard and John Lucchesi talk about the concept of supplying customers with prepared ingredients for menu items that are assembled and taken home to cook and serve. (Mike Jory/Times-Herald)

BENICIA - Just in time for the new year, a new concept in meal preparation is opening in the new Rose Center.

Esther Hassard and John Lucchesi of Benicia plan a grand opening of Benicia Dream Dinners at 2154 Columbus Parkway on Jan. 10;. The hours will from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Dream Dinners is designed to eliminate the prep work that goes into making dinner, while allowing clients to provide their families with fresh-cooked, healthy meals.

"We shop, we chop," Hassard said. "You don't have to sit down and prepare a shopping list or go to the grocery store. We do the cleanup, and everything is portioned out. All you have to do is assemble the ingredients for the entr\ées you select."

Christina Moore of Benicia, a 36-year-old working mother of 7-year-old twins, said the concept works for her.

"I'm very busy, and this is a great solution to the mundane dinner when you have very little time and energy left," Moore said. "You get gourmet meals at a good price. You save time, and the marinades and sauces are great.

"I've even gotten my kids to eat vegetables with these meals because they taste so good."

For about $4.50 per serving, Dream Dinners offers 18 entr\ée choices that serve up to six. The menu selections change monthly, and include items like orangey Asian chicken, beef stew with tomatoes, Caribbean pork roast with honey-mustard sauce and pesto cheese ravioli, chicken and walnuts.

"They try to keep each entr\ée under 450 calories," Hassard said, adding that recipes and cooking tips are posted at the various ingredient stations.

Fully prepared and cooked entr\ées also will be available soon, she said.

But some people enjoy the assembly experience, which includes music, wine tasting, food sampling and camaraderie, Lucchesi said.

Two Washington women dreamed up Dream Dinners about five years ago, Hassard said.

"They were caterers, and used to save time by preparing some ingredients in advance and freezing them," said Hassard, 36, a longtime Benicia resident. "Eventually, friends started asking if they could prepare some things for them, and the concept was born."

There are now more than 260 Dream Dinner franchises in 35 states, with the mission to "serve others, bring families back to the dinner table with healthy, nutritious, economical and easy-to-fix meals, and provide a venue for giving back to the community," according to company literature.

Franchisees offer fund-raising events and donate money to local charities, the information notes.

"Three years ago, I saw this on the Food Network and I thought this was something Benicia could use," said Hassard, a married mother of two. "I knew it was something I wanted to do, and I tried it in Pleasanton, and now I can't get along without it."

Hassard's brother-in-law, Lucchesi, 42, said his wife also relies on the Pleasanton Dream Dinners location and can't wait for the new Benicia site to open. There also is a franchise in Vacaville.

"This is perfect for the busy, working soccer mom, but I've also seen single men doing it. It saves time and money," he said.

Food is delivered from Sysco Corp., a restaurant supply giant, once or twice weekly, he added.

No membership is required to use Dream Dinners, the pair said. People simply go online at, select their preferred menu for the number of meals they choose, set an assembly appointment time and pay, Hassard said.

Customers come in at their appointed times, slip on the apron provided and assemble their meals into freezer containers. Meal assembly appointments are limited to 12 patrons at a time, except for private parties, which can accommodate up to 20. The process takes about two hours, they said.

CO-OWNER Esther Hassard, left, talks with prospective customer Candace Martin of Benicia about the services of Dream Dinners on Columbus Parkway in Benicia. (Mike Jory/Times-Herald)

• E-mail Rachel Raskin- Zrihen at or call 553-6824.

For information about Benicia Dream Dinners, call 747-0977 or visit

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