The Ghost of Meal Assembly Past, Present and Future

As we finish up the first four months of the year where has meal assembly taken us? We started off by noting that store closings don’t seem to be on the decline and as we continue to hear from current owners, who find themselves in less than desirable financial circumstances, that number may hit an all time high as we head into the summer months. There is already talk of what you need to do in order to close your store and what sort of bankruptcy protection an LLC provide the individual owner.

With meal assembly not really jumping off to great start we followed that up with Dream Dinners making changes at the helm and not saying anything about it. But right after the change is announced a massive $30 million lawsuit is filed by several owners who feel they have been swindled into buying into such an unproven concept and they want to be released from their contracts. Interesting timing to be sure. Stephanie, the Dream Dinners figurehead, responds with a casual “it’s your own damn fault, don’t blame me” article on her visit to Charlotte. The very owners she hand picked to be a part of her business and her family are now not good enough and too interested in making money. They should be in business so they can give the money away, just like she does I’m sure.

Not to be outdone with things you shouldn’t say, Bert can’t seem to keep his mouth closed and continues to backpedal on all the things he said throughout 2007. The “market can handle 3,000 stores” has now been replaced with “the market is seeing a pause”. But has Bert stopped selling his wares to new owners? Has Bert counseled his clients in what they need to do in order to weather this meal assembly tsunami? About the only think Bert has seen fit to do is paraphrase the ideas presented by the users of this site and pass them off as his own in his less than illuminating newsletter.

In the typical fashion of not confirming anything, rumors abound about My Girlfriend’s Kitchen and The Dinner A’Fare merging – one of about 4 rumors we’ve heard already this year of stores buying each other out. Even the owners aren’t sure what’s going on or what name they will be known by. Normally when companies merge together it’s seen as good news and something that will make the company stronger and more competitive. This merger doesn’t seem to make sense on any level. Only time will tell if there really has been a merger of the two companies and what we can expect to see from the new My Girlfriend’s Dinner Kitchen A’Fare.

Judie, are you still out there? Hello, Judie? Head honcho of Super Suppers and purveyor of the famous chili beans over pasta has dropped off the radar. Is she dedicating time to her side business as cooking personality, strategizing about how she will drive her company through the tough times ahead or just trying to stay out of the crosshairs? Apart from adding pizza to their menu not much has been heard from the SS camp.

And speaking of side businesses, who in the meal assembly industry doesn’t have a side business of selling junk to meal assembly owners? Dream Dinners has PR firms, Super Suppers has cooking shows, MGFK has a site dedicated to finding suppliers, the EMPA now has a coalition trying to coerce you into breaking away from your Zor so you can pursue a life of leisure as an independent owner (regardless of the legal ramifications and profitability of this industry).

So as we hit the final stages that will rocket us into the normally slow summer months what can we expect? Are the franchisors more helpful to their owners? Darin has been cruising the countryside offering his pearls of wisdom to his captive audience. Is it going to make a difference? Are owners armed with what they need to be successful? Do they have the tools and marketing they need to grab the attention of customers who tend to do their own cooking travelling during this time?

If a merger has indeed taken place will the Kitchen A’Fare be a stronger brand to get them through the summer months or will the rebranding of stores be too much of a financial burden and the be straw that breaks the camel’s back? Will Super Suppers re-emerge from hiding and offer up it’s own plan for how to deal with the slower summer months?

Besides sending a slew of Press Releases about their massive takeover of the continental U.S., what have we heard of Dinner by Design? Their “innovative” offerings must surely be in full swing now, are they helping? What’s next on their agenda? Pre-assembled and curb side service isn’t new, so what other plans do they have for their owners to help them succeed? You can’t just go running around announcing some grand scheme of opening all these stores across huge tracts of the country, you still need a plan to make your current owners turn a profit, not just some plan to replace them with new ones.

Is MealMakers even still in business? 6 months now and not a word from them. Are there still MM owners out there? How are you doing? Are you doing better than the rest? Are you in the same boat? I don’t believe there are any of these within 100 miles of me so I can’t even look for myself.

Meal assembly franchises seem to be in a complete state of disarray if not down right chaos. None of the brands seem to be getting their names out there, owners seem to be in the dark as to the future of their franchises, companies like MGFK may or may not be for sale and other companies like Dream Dinners are subtly offering themselves up for sale, food prices are going through the roof, gas prices are going through the roof, customers are tightening their belts, teens are even showing a sign of maturity and curbing their spending, water shortages will probably be a concern again and in this time of crisis it seems that the franchisors are no more certain of what to do than anyone else. I don’t think a “throw it against the wall and see if it sticks” or a “wing it” kind of attitude is going to get your through the next couple of months. For example, where is the plan to deal with the growing food shortage? Rice and other grains are now at premium prices and now Sam’s has put limits on how much you can buy. Are the franchises going to make changes to their meals to exclude these as side dishes? Will they actually do it in any reasonable amount of time or will they wait until most owners have paid gold level prices? Perhaps they’ll simply say owners aren’t actually using enough so there is no reason to change. This would be a good time to with Jim’s “Take Mine” idea. It could certainly generate some good will and some fine PR. But then again they haven’t executed on any previous plans why should they start now?

What cost saving and protection measure do the franchises have in place? What methods are they using in order to keep their current owners? What marketing strategies have they shared with their current owners other than toothpaste and some sort of plastic cup set (and some sort of face cream that makes you break out in a horrible rash)? Where is the marketing money going to be spent to bring in customers for the summer? What assurances do owners have that they will still be in business by the time August rolls around? The economy has turned on its ear and it doesn’t sound like franchises are making any adjustments to their business plans. Now is not the time for business as usual or blaming your current owners because they want to make money instead of giving it all away. Since Judie and Stephanie are so keen on altruism perhaps they should give back the last 3-6 months worth of royalties they took from owners. I mean the government is giving refunds, why don’t the Queen Bees? It’s all for the family right?

The big push into summer months is about to begin and considering the state of some stores it needs to be big and there needs to be a lot of momentum in order to get them into the holiday season. What are the franchises doing to save their owners and their companies? If there is a mass exodus of stores across the country do these corporate owners really think they will still be able to stay in business?

The franchisors have 8 months left to save their owners and their companies, how do you think they’ll do it?

Other Articles of Interest:

    None Found

42 Responses to “The Ghost of Meal Assembly Past, Present and Future”

  • pixie:

    Wow! You sound like a real entrepreneur. So – you bought into a new concept and it failed? Many new concepts fail. You had your happy ears on and only heard good news? Your pity party may make you feel better but you aren’t helping yourself, your industry, or your customers by crying in your beer. Fix the situation or move on and find a more successful way to earn a living. Whining never built a path to success.

  • guestwho:

    Gee thanx Pixie, your insight is so helpful for those of us who no longer have “happy ears”. You obviously have a stake like others keep the “happy ears” syndrome going to to keep them from hearing about the mass devastation this industry visited on hundreds of families, who got “happy ears” by listening to the experts in the industry like Bert, Stephanie, Keri & Brett Willenborg, Marcia Hale and folks at Dinner by Design, Dinners A Fare, CENA et al which one do you belong to?
    The people (who you are obviously one of) who need to fix the situation consistently blame everyone else and tell then there is nothing wrong with the situation. For them why should there be, they still get paid.
    A sucessful way to earn a living? You mean like the way Zors extort cash out of the pockets of people to maintain their lavish lifestyles while the folks at the bottom eat beans & rice cause they can;t afford to pay themselves & pay royalties, mandatory marketing fees and other madates by their Zors. Is that the kind of successful way to earn a living your talking about?
    Until you have walked in the worn out shoes a lot of the folks here have walked in You need to shut the hell up and fix the situation you helped to create.

  • ChefGeorge:

    Another thanks for your insight Pixie. How helpful. So basically anyone who failed was not an Entrepreneur. My cocker spaniel has more depth.

  • pixie:

    Just so you know. I have no interest or experience in the food business – neither do my family or friends. Why do you assume that? I have almost 30 years in the information technology industry. Until my first grandchild was born this February I had never heard of meal assembly. A colleague suggested I give my daughter and son-in-law meals from a local store (Supperthyme if you want the details) to help them get adjusted to life with a new baby. I did just that and they were very pleased to have tasty meals ready each night with little work on their part. My husband and I decided to help them out with monthly meals their first six months as new parents. Problem was we didn’t really like the April menu so we decided to research other options. That’s how we found your web site. I was stunned at the level of whining and finger pointing. As a consumer, I hope I never do business with anyone as negative as those posting to this site.

    Entrepreneurs do sometimes fail but they rebound based on what they’ve learned. What I see on this site is a crybaby campaign hoping ‘somebody’ will fix this industry.

    Bear in mind that the internet is open to customers as well as colleagues and the negativity on this site will drive customers like me away from your doors. If that’s your intent, you’ve succeeded.

  • guestwho:

    Well Pixie,
    If all it took to drive you away from Supper Thyme was this site, then it doesn;t say much for your “love of the concept” or you kids “love of the food.
    Which pretty much proves the point of “all the whiners and crybabies” on this site who have lost their businesses along with a lot more. Again thanks for your help in trying to figure out who our customers should be.
    So the way I see it, you don’t frequent any business that has or might have a contingent of whiners and crybabies in it? That just about takes out every industry, service in the world.
    Thanks for all your kind words, since you have no clue what we’ve been through….again, thanks so very much, but shut the hell up…..

  • pixie:

    If you believe that telling a customer looking for additional options in your industry to ‘shut the hell up’ will help your industry prosper then you are doing yourself and your colleagues a huge disservice. This is a public forum and you are exposing your disregard for consumers to the world. This will be my last post and my last visit to this site. Other consumers are likely to find this site, as I did, and become appalled at your negativity. Other consumers are likely to find your site and decide not to support a chaotic industry.

    I wrote that I was looking for other options because I didn’t care for one month’s menu. I could have become a long term customer. My daughter and her friends might have become customers as well.

    But go ahead and alienate all of us. I’m sure your perfect customers are lining outside your door.

  • ChefGeorge:

    Perhaps you really won’t be back Pixie, but if you are, what I would say is you miss the point of this forum. Personally I have no problem with “consumers” reading the “negativity” if that’s what you want to call it. There is nothing on this site that shows disregard for the consumer….in fact the exact opposite. No one has been able to figure out how to satisfy the consumer such that we can make a profit. You have no concept of the percent of MAKs that closed or what the owners, especially those who bought a franchise have been through. If you are looking for other her “options” then this site clearly is not for you… but since you landed on it, you really needed to take the time to read through things and get some understanding of what is going on before somehow concluding that everyone here is a bunch of whiners.

  • John:

    MealMakers is out of business. Owner/Founder, Robert Hartman of St. Louis Mo has taken the “Money’ and ran. Several owners of MealMakers have filed fraud suits againt the company.

  • mysterymiss:

    And so it begins for this upstanding Zor and these folks who have been taken…..

    Schmakel et al v. Meal Makers Franchising, LLC et al
    Plaintiffs: James B Schmakel, Schmake-N-Bake, Inc., Rebecca Schmakel and Bryan Schmakel
    Defendants: Meal Makers Franchising, LLC and Robert Hartman

    Case Number: 3:2008cv00889
    Filed: April 8, 2008

    Court: Ohio Northern District Court
    Office: Toledo Office [ Court Info ]
    County: Wood
    Presiding Judge: Judge Jack Zouhary

    Nature of Suit: Torts – Property – Other Fraud
    Cause: 28:1332 Diversity-Fraud
    Jurisdiction: Diversity
    Jury Demanded By: Plaintiff
    Amount Demanded: $240,000,000.00

  • Go west:

    Sorry…does that say $240 MILLION?!? As in, a quarter of a billion dollars?!

    Ummm…I get that the plaintiffs’ lives were impacted heavily by their losses and failed business, but does anyone else think this is extreme?

    I think if you want to be taken seriously, it would be more appropriate to sue for:
    – Actual losses (can’t imagine this being more than $1 million)
    – Legal fees to pursue
    – A REASONABLE figure for pain and suffering, but can’t really see that being more than the amount of the actual losses.

    I mean, I’m sympathetic but basically, they worked their a$$es off and lost a lot of money. No one died, right?!

  • FoolMeOnce:

    Dear Pixie and any other Meal Assembly Customers who may land on this website;

    I hope that you are still reading as I wish for you to know that as harsh as some of these bloggers may sound, if you knew the background of this industry, how much money time and effort all of these owners have spent (not waiting for someone else to fix it) then you might understand the feelings shared here.

    Thank-you for the reminder to all that this blog can be accessed by anyone, we need to remember that!

    Yes, absolutely an entreprenuer can adjust to the market and learn from mistakes, however a franchisee is not a true entrepreneur and does not have that option, they must operate within the guidelines of the franchise agreement.

    You say to fix the business or move on and I have to tell you that franchisees do not have that luxury, they have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to make a go of this industry and just when they think that they are on their way, the home office comes up with a new idea to confound the customer and drive business away. Meanwhile, owners have personally guaranteed contracts with franchisors, banks, landlords and vendors and employees who need to be paid even though they cannot pay themselves. The reason that one joins a franchise organization is for the proven business model so that one does not have to go 3-4 years without even one paycheck. Can you imagine that? We didn’t. Had anyone of us opened our very own business with a brand new concept, we probably would have expected to go a few years without a paycheck, but it isn’t supposed to be that way with a franchise organization. Some of the franchisees speaking here pay their franchisor whether their store brings in a certain amount of revenue or not.

    I am sorry that you landed on this website, however please understand these are/were incredibly hard working owners and absolutely not whiners. I am talking about owners who may come in at 8-9 o’clock in the morning and not leave until midnight or later only to turn around and do it again the next day and the next for years. Owners who have a hard time going on vacation, because they can only afford part time help who may decide they need to quit just as you are supposed to leave on your well deserved vacation.

    Working on your business and not in your business sounds good, but is not always possible so we do both. Even though stores may only be open 3-4 days a week does not mean that owners only have a part-time job, believe me. In fact, many owners have to work a second job! To work that many hours and have nothing to show for it is hardly rewarding.

    I hope that you and your children will forgive the way you were treated here and continue to frequent the various meal assembly kitchens around your home and thank-you for having done so in the past.

  • dinnerzen:

    I thought the same thing when I read $240 million for the MM case. Their stores didn’t have refrigerated prep tables and I believe they didn’t have anything in the way of kitchens- one of the less expensive to get up and running. Seems like it’ll be squeezing blood from a turnip.

    When you log in they only show 5 locations, but only two stores have May calendars showing the rest have an “i’m sorry we’re closed” or no messages showing. Their calendar of the country still shows a lot of locations, but when you click on the state nothing shows up.

    FooMeOnce thanks for your thoughtful reply to pixie. It is difficult for those of us still in the business to imagine our customers coming across the likes of this site. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely see the benefit from all the angles, but from a customer perspective it leaves…sigh.

  • First off if Pixie wanted a more welcoming reception it would have been advisable to not start off the first post with “Your pity party may make you feel better but you aren’t helping yourself, your industry, or your customers by crying in your beer. Fix the situation or move on and find a more successful way to earn a living.” This was clearly meant to antagonize and belittle all of us and especially me. I doubt seriously any meal assembly customer would write such a thing. I have no doubt those comments were made by someone from a corporate office.

    The figure mentioned in the Meal Makers lawsuit does seem, well, out of proportion. If it really is that high I would assume it’s all the owners together who are suing? A nationwide class action lawsuit? I checked out their site as well and it really doesn’t seem to work anymore. Most of the stores seem to be missing and you kind of get stuck in a circle. Like I said, there has been nothing about them for months, perhaps they did high tail it out of town…

  • suckitup:

    So, this is how everyone spends their day? Being bitter and wasting time and energy on a stupid mak forum…how wonderful!

  • FoolMeOnce:

    Dear suckitup,

    What brings you here?

    Did I miss a memo; are we supposed to be marketing 24/7 now with no time for anything else?

  • After were done wasting our time and being bitter we’re heading out to club some seals, kick some puppies and steal some candy from little children. After that we’re going to sit on the porch, discuss our contempt for the weather, complain about the government, yell at the kids for driving too fast and talk endlessly about how much better it used to be “in the old days”. It’s gonna be a full day, we might have to pace ourselves.

    Since you obviously have nothing better to do, you’re in on that action, right?

  • dinnerzen:

    Tuckerbox- that was the first good laugh I’ve had all day. Menu changeover is a bear. Thanks!

  • MAK MAN:

    Suckitup is Pixie in disguise.

  • guestwho:

    And I would venture an educated guess it’s someone from Supper Thymes HQ…

  • Another Ex-DD Owner:

    Started the day reading inspirational quotes and came across this one. It reminded me of all the ZORs out there. Just thought I’d share:

    “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.”
    Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • ChefGeorge:

    Thx for that great laugh Tuckerbox!

    Guestwho I’m curious why you think it was Keri/Brett…don’t they all think like that?!

  • guest2:

    wait………..what about Tina Kuna & Stephaine Allen with Dream Dinners, Inc.?! cant forget about them…….!

  • John:

    the meal prep industry is a great idea. It really helps us parents who work full time and like to prepare quality dinners for our family without the nightly hassel. I truly am sorry to see the industry starting to fail. It is a WONDERFUL concept. I personally will continue to patronize my favorite meal prep location.
    As for MM I really feel sorry for the franchiee’s who got taken by by this scam. The owner/founder has run the business into the ground for his personal funds. He has taken money from people all over the US with a promise to start their franchise and never did, gave them bogus contracts and did not fullfill any of them. He ordered built out for stores and then never paid the vendors, leaving the fills for the franchisee’s, which they had already paid directly to him. He has stolen many good peoples life savings with false promises. this man should be in jail. As of now he and his wife have over 20 fraud lawsuits against him. just check the court records for missouri and many other states.
    As for the above lawsuit, I beleive that amount is a type. should be 240,000.

  • Cathy:

    You’re right John. I opened 3 Mealmakers stores and just closed the last one a few weeks ago. To date, we have lost $1.9 million, and we may be paying off this debt for the rest of our lives. There are a number of people like me, but most of us have no money left to begin a lawsuit. (We tried the BBB, but they said we needed written proof this was a scam.) We were told misleading things about the profitability of existing franchises. The way the Mealmakers system was set up, I don’t believe there was any way possible to make money. The owner, Bob Hartman, was the best salesperson we’ve ever met. I think there is one store left in Kansas City, Missouri. The two owners run the store themselves.

  • This is tough to take. I am an independent in NE Ohio. 2 of our 3 likes (one 4 miles N, the other 4 miles S) have closed in the last 4 months. We have tried almost everyway to market, even giving/daring customers to spend a $5 gift card that they received. I have a programmer working on our site to e-mail anyone that orders online with a follow-up a week later.

    We have customers tell us how much that they love us, then we do not see them for 4 months…or more!

    What else is/isn’t working out there?

    Harder to keep the chin up…but we have to!

  • mysterymiss:

    Hi Miketwin, Welcome!
    We have one of four MAK’s left in our area. I think we may be in the same neck of the woods! Only SS is left & they seem to be struggling too! It seems to be a mexican stand-off, last man standing proposition for some of the current MAK owners indie or zee, although it hasn’t seemed to do the local SS very much good.
    We are about 8 months post-MA
    We tried every-way we could to market as well and couldn’t seem to get any traction with anything we tried…ditto with what all our customers told us.
    Take a look at some of marketing idea here and see if anything fits your market, just beware that some folks here have ulterior motives for giving marketing advice- read the cautions of some of the other Indies.
    It’s a tough row to hoe and If you follow my posts you will know that I am vocal about my feelings about the MAK industry and the fact that I think it’s a failed concept. I respectfully agree to disagree with some of the good folks who post here about the viability of the MAK concept.
    You are in a better position that most Zees because you have no royalty or ad fund fees to pay. Hopefully you didn’t hock or bet the farm to finance your business.
    Good luck to you!

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