Before she opened Dish, a local meal prep business, Allison Slater, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, was a corporate retail executive with 20 years of experience in the field, but losing her job had her reexamining what she wanted to do with her life. Years earlier, she’d established a meal prep routine for herself to improve her health and energy levels, and yearned to help others do the same, but knew opening a business was risky. Enter the pandemic, and she soon realized it was a risk she wanted to take. After a few fits and starts, she took on a partner, and Dish—a sustainable and earth-friendly service offering healthy balanced meals so all clients would have to do is plate them—was born. We caught up with this Chatham-based, divorced mom of one to find out how a Mother’s Day brunch in 2020 inspired her to open a new business, how her daughter set her on the path to being more eco-conscious, and the heavenly, aromatic coffee shop where you can find her every morning.
Please tell us a little 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 the start-up of our international expansion in Canada and Mexico. For several years I had a dream to open up a bakery, coffee shop, or something else that would enable me to connect with the community. Still, it wasn’t until I was making Mother’s Day brunch in 2020 that I realized just how fulfilled I was when preparing an “entertaining-type” meal. Something clicked that day, and I realized that this is what I wanted to do. I just needed to figure out the details of how to make that happen.
What made you and your business partner decide to go into business together, and how do you divide up the business’ responsibilities? I first opened Lunchbox on Main, a healthy lunchtime solution, but it was overwhelming to run solo. Chef Will and I met when were both working out of a shared commercial kitchen for our businesses. I was struggling to keep up with cooking for the masses, and he’d offer advice from time to time. Will was having trouble with the business end of things, and I’d keep an eye on him for menu design, pricing, and other issues. We quickly realized that we each had what the other lacked, and we shared the same vision of a fresh and healthy, eco-friendly company, so we closed our separate businesses and rebranded as Dish together. His culinary background makes him ideal for handling kitchen operations, cooking, and most food-related issues. I run the business end, including business development, marketing, branding, analytics, and customer relations.
What sets Dish apart from other food prep businesses out there? Dish is an eco-conscious, small-batch, community-based business that prepares and delivers fresh and healthy lunch and dinner options. We have pickup location options and free, local delivery to Chatham and Madison and will deliver to other areas for a fee based on distance. When people hear meal prep, they usually think of subscriptions. We’re not a subscription meal plan. We want people to want the actual food they’re getting and believe in our mission, rather than signing up for something they’re bound to. We’re plastic-free, small-batch, and we produce, package, and deliver within 24-48 hours. We keep our business local and will not sacrifice quality to mass-produce. Right now, we also offer virtual cooking classes, a once-a-week 3-course meal dining club, and one-of-a-kind business or special event solutions. Even if we decide to grow bigger later, we’ll always make sure we have a local kitchen in whatever areas we’re in so that we can stay true to who we are. Also, we’re committed to being and staying green, and we only plan on getting greener as time goes on. We have a long-term goal of buying and storing stainless steel containers so that they’re reusable in the way that dairy delivery containers are reusable–they’ll be sterilized and used over and over again.
Does your daughter ever help you in your business? If so, please explain. Emilia knows when I’m in a good mood, a bad mood, and when I’m thinking about something mood, so when I told her I would be starting a business, she was as excited about it as I was. It was early Covid, and we’d go on walks together and brainstorm, and the one thing she insisted I do is make it eco-friendly—this was non-negotiable! She’s huge on saving turtles, polar bears, and the environment, and she opened my eyes to this issue. Because of her, I’ve become very active in my community and in setting an example for other businesses. I’m partnering and working with Chatham Borough’s Green Team. Though sometimes Emilia helps Chef Will and me when we are packing, labeling and organizing, her biggest contribution is her support and how she inspired the business to be green.
What’s do you love about being a mompreneur? And the most challenging? The best thing about being a mompreneur is building and creating something that didn’t exist before. I also love having the freedom and flexibility you don’t have when working in a corporate environment. The most challenging thing about it is the uncertainty, lack of stability, and risk involved.
What are some of your favorite local NJ businesses? The General Store Cooperative in Maplewood is an exceptional shared vendor space with a friendly community vibe. I love that each vendor is mission-based or locally made, and most businesses are on the newer side of their journeys. And my absolute go-to shop has to be T.M. Ward Coffee in Chatham. It’s where I get all my coffee, and the second I walk into the shop, I feel like I’m in heaven. There’s nothing in the world as great as the combined scent of coffee and baked goods.
What do you love doing in NJ with your family? Emilia and I love to ride our bikes all around Duke Farms and take in the beautiful surroundings. We also love exploring different towns and experiencing other communities to get a feel for them. It’s the best way to find a new favorite sandwich shop or pizza place. And of course, some areas are very special to us. We enjoy 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 gives you an appreciation for what you do have when you come home.
What’s your best piece of advice for another NJMOMpreneur thinking about taking the leap to own her own business? It’s essential to have a big picture vision, but don’t get too stuck on one way to make it happen. If you’re too specific on how you plan to accomplish your goal and it doesn’t work out, you might decide to give up. Instead, be open to trying new things, pivoting as you go, and you might get there.