Prior to opening Dish, a local meal prep company, Allison Slater, our NJMOMpreneur of the week, was a retail manager with 20 years of experience in the field, but the loss of her job made her reconsider what she wanted to do with her life. Years earlier, she had established a meal-prep routine for herself to improve her health and energy levels, and yearned to help others do the same, but knew that opening a business was risk. Entering the pandemic, she quickly realized that it was a risk she wanted to take. After a few jerks, she took on a partner, and Dish, a sustainable, eco-friendly service offering healthy and balanced meals, all customers would have to do is prepare them, was born. We caught up with this divorced mother-of-one from Chatham to find out how a Mother’s Day brunch in 2020 inspired her to open a new business, how her daughter put her on the path to being more caring about environment and paradise, aromatic coffee where you can find it every morning.
Tell us a bit about your family and background. In April 2020, I moved from Maplewood to Chatham, where I live with my 12 year old daughter, Emilia, and our puggle, Wilma. I divorced in 2017, and two years later I lost my corporate position at Ann Taylor, where I led a team of buyers and designers and started our international expansion in Canada and Mexico. For several years, I dreamed of opening a bakery, cafe or something else that would allow me to connect with the community. Yet, it wasn’t until I was preparing for Mother’s Day brunch in 2020 that I realized how fulfilled I was when preparing an “entertaining-type” meal. Something clicked that day, and I realized that was what I wanted to do. I just needed to find the details to make it happen.
What prompted you and your business partner to start a business together, and how do you divide the responsibilities of the company? I first opened Lunchbox on Main, a healthy lunch solution, but it was overwhelming to go solo. Chef Will and I met while we were both working in a common commercial kitchen for our businesses. I found it hard to keep up with cooking for the masses, and he offered me advice every now and then. Will was having issues with business, and I would keep an eye on him for menu design, pricing and other issues. We quickly realized that we each had what the other was lacking and we shared the same vision of a fresh, healthy and environmentally friendly company. We therefore closed our separate activities and renamed Dish together. His culinary background makes him ideal for handling kitchen operations, baking and most food related issues. I manage the commercial part, including business development, marketing, branding, analysis and customer relations.
What sets Dish apart from other food preparation companies? Dish is an environmentally conscious, small-batch community business that prepares and delivers fresh, healthy lunch and dinner options. We have pickup location options and free local delivery in Chatham and Madison and will deliver to other areas for a distance based fee. When people hear of meal preparation, they usually think of subscriptions. We are not a subscription meal plan. We want people to want the food they receive and believe in our mission, rather than signing up for something they are tied to. We are plastic free, in small batches, and we produce, package and deliver within 24-48 hours. We keep our business local and will not sacrifice quality for mass production. Right now, we also offer virtual cooking classes, a 3-course catering club once a week, and unique solutions for business or special events. Even if we decide to grow up later, we will still make sure that we have local cuisine in all areas we are in so that we can stay true to who we are. Additionally, we are committed to being and staying green, and we only plan to get greener over time. We have a long term goal of purchasing and storing stainless steel containers so that they are reusable in the same way that dairy delivery containers are reusable – they will be sterilized and used over and over again.
Has your daughter ever helped you in your business? If so, please explain. Emilia knows when I’m in a good mood, in a bad mood, and when I think of something in the mood, so when I told her that I would be starting a business, she was as excited as I was. It was the start of Covid, and we were going to walk around together and think, and the only thing she insisted I do was make it eco-friendly – it wasn’t negotiable! She is very committed to saving turtles, polar bears and the environment, and she opened my eyes to this problem. Thanks to her, I have become very active in my community and setting an example to other businesses. I work in partnership and with the Chatham Borough Green Team. While Emilia sometimes helps Chef Will and I when we pack, label and organize, her biggest contribution is her support and how she inspired the company to be green.
What do you like about being a mother entrepreneur? And the most difficult? The best thing about being a mompreneur is building and creating something that wasn’t there before. I also like having the freedom and flexibility that you don’t have when working in a corporate environment. The hardest thing about it is the uncertainty, the lack of stability and the risks involved.
What are some of your favorite local NJ businesses? The Maplewood General Store Cooperative is an exceptional shared retail space with a friendly community atmosphere. I love that each vendor is mission based or locally made, and most companies are on the newer side of their travels. And my go-to shop has to be TM Ward Coffee in Chatham. This is where I get all my coffee, and the second I walk into the store, I feel like I’m in Heaven. There is nothing in the world as good as the combined smell of coffee and baked goods.
What do you like to do in New Jersey with your family? Emilia and I love to cycle around Duke Farms and take in the beautiful surroundings. We also like to explore different cities and discover other communities to feel them. This is the best way to find a new sandwich shop or favorite pizzeria. And of course there are some areas that are very special to us. We love spending time in Manasquan as well as Stone Harbor which couldn’t be more charming. In general, traveling and discovering new places is one of our favorite things to do, and it also makes you appreciate what you have when you get home.
What’s your best advice for another NJMOMpreneur who is considering taking the plunge to owning their own business? It’s essential to have the big picture, but don’t get too stuck on one way to get there. If you’re too specific about how you plan to achieve your goal and it doesn’t work, you might decide to give up. Instead, be open to trying new things, rotate as you go, and you might get there.
For more information on Allison Slater and Dish, please visit their website, Instagram and Facebook pages.
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