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Published: Monday, 12/18/2006

Franchise aids in meal prep and much more

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Customers come to Jeff and Kelly Digby's Supper Thyme franchise to assemble meals for their families that can be frozen and cooked at home, without having to worry about shopping or cleanup chores. Kelly Digby also is executive chef for the franchise and uses the kitchen to develop recipes that other franchisees can use. The store also is used for cooking classes. Customers come to Jeff and Kelly Digby's Supper Thyme franchise to assemble meals for their families that can be frozen and cooked at home, without having to worry about shopping or cleanup chores. Kelly Digby also is executive chef for the franchise and uses the kitchen to develop recipes that other franchisees can use. The store also is used for cooking classes.
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FINDLAY - After a few years of providing personal chef and catering services in Toledo and other cities, Kelly Digby realized the average mother couldn't afford her culinary help.

So Mrs. Digby and her husband, Jeff, decided to add a Supper Thyme USA franchise to her other chef pursuits. In June, they opened a store outfitted with food preparation and storage areas in Findlay, where customers come to assemble meals for their families that can be frozen and cooked at home.

Supper Thyme, the Digbys said, is a natural evolution of the Inspired Kitchen Culinary Services business the chef started eight years ago in California. "They feed off of each other and complement each other," Mr. Digby said.

Through Inspired Kitchen, Mrs. Digby does catering and offers a variety of culinary classes. Those classes often are taught at the Supper Thyme store, where people also can buy prepared meals from the franchise and soon can buy gourmet chocolates, spices, and other ingredients.

Besides classes for adults and couples, Mrs. Digby holds classes for children twice a month to encourage them to acquire a taste for more than fast food. They make dishes such as crepes with fresh fruit while homing in on kitchen safety, too, she said.

"That's something that I hope to expand," she said. "We try to make it something that's healthy but fun for them."

Cooking is sometimes used to help employees and other groups learn how to work together. Teams are assigned a table with ingredients but no recipes, and they have to make their dishes for a buffet shared by all.

David Schlaudecker, executive director of Leadership Toledo, said he used Mrs. Digby and her team-building exercise during an adult leadership class. The experience was fun, the food was good, and everyone agreed it was a success, he said. "They had to work together and communicate well," Mr. Schlaudecker said. "It met all of our requirements, and she's already on our calendar for next year."

Michelle Miarer and son Makade, 5, mix up a batch of ginger snaps at Supper Thyme USA in Findlay. Michelle Miarer and son Makade, 5, mix up a batch of ginger snaps at Supper Thyme USA in Findlay.
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Mrs. Digby also is Supper Thyme's corporate chef. She develops and tests recipes in Findlay that can be used by dozens of other franchises nationwide.

At Supper Thyme, meal-preparation sessions last about two hours, and customers prepare six-serving dishes from menus that change monthly. They follow recipes to measure ingredients and do other assembly tasks, but all of the shopping, chopping, and other such chores are done before sessions begin.

Chatting, munching on snacks, and other activities are encouraged during sessions, after which customers don't have to face the onerous task of cleaning up, she said. "It's a social event for a lot of ladies."

After the first of the year, Mrs. Digby plans to design packages with two servings for empty nesters, she said.

All Supper Thyme dishes, such as apple butter pork tenderloin and southwest taco soup, cost $2.76 to $3.61 a serving depending on the number of meals made. Three six-serving dishes cost $65, for example, while 12 cost $199, a far cry from fees for the personal chef services from which she has moved away, Mrs. Digby said.

"It's very affordable for everyone," she said.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at: jmckinnon@theblade.com or 419-724-6087.

Small Business Profile is a weekly feature on local companies. To be considered, send information about your company to Small Business Profiles, Business News, The Blade, P.O. Box 921, Toledo, Ohio 43697-0921.



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