Alumni Profile • Laura Veldink Vos '94 and partners
Mission: restore family mealtimes

L to R: Jeff Stuk, Kim DeKuiper Stuk, Jon Vos, Laura Veldink Vos, Jack Vos, Dawn Van Zee Vos

A year after opening, Main Dish Kitchen, headquartered in Holland, Mich., has doubled its operating space, more than quadrupled the number of its employees and contracted 15 franchises in three states.

But it’s not growth in size or profitability that most excites its founders. It’s growth in something more on the minds of sociologists than on the minds of entrepreneurs: the number of meals families eat together.

“The typical American family is in chaos at the dinner hour,” said Laura Veldink Vos ’94, one of Main Dish’s founders. “There’s no time, especially if both parents are working, to get home, create and cook a healthy dinner, and sit down to enjoy it.”

Vos and her partners know the growing body of research: The single strongest predictor of whether adolescents will be well adjusted — free of drug and alcohol abuse and depression, motivated at school, with positive peer and family relationships — is the frequency with which they eat with their families.

“We know women want to make family time more of a priority,” said Dawn Van Zee Vos ’88, another Main Dish founder. “We wanted to give them a way to do that by simplifying the family dinner hour.”

“Living Simple…Cooking Smart” is the Main Dish motto, written on its store walls. Customers enter Main Dish to find an elliptical kitchen countertop divided into 12 stations. At each station are the ingredients for a meal’s main dish and instructions on how to assemble them in a 9” x 13” pan. As a group, 12 to 16 customers move around the countertop, with each person preparing 12 main dishes that she or he will take home to freeze — from Scarborough Fair pork tenderloin to Mexican lasagna. The 12 main dishes change each month. Cooks can customize a particular dish to suit their families — no green peppers, please — and split portions for smaller families. In two hours a customer goes home with 12 meals — and no dirty dishes — all for about $15 a meal.

Preparing food at Main Dish Kitchen“We call it a guilt-free getaway,” Laura Vos said. “You come with your friends and have fun cooking together, but you’re doing something for your family, something that would have taken you lots longer at home.”

“Customers are so thrilled to have 12 meals they can feel good about putting on the table,” added Kim DeKuiper Stuk ’88, a third partner in the business. “Plus they have those hours between school and soccer practice to invest in their kids, instead of being stuck at a cooktop.”

There’s another plus. At each two-hour session customers assemble, at no charge, 12 extra meals. When the customers leave, they take six of those meals to give away as they choose — to families dealing with a new baby, a death or a crisis. The other six extra meals are donated by Main Dish to local service agencies, like hospices and shelters. Since its opening in September 2004, Main Dish, corporately, has donated 11,500 pans of food. That’s about 70,000 individual servings. “People who come here also get the joy of giving quality meals to others,” Laura Vos said.

For more about Main Dish Kitchen, including how to attend a cooking session, see www.maindishkitchen.com.