Kelly's Kitchen makes family mealtime easier

Dianne White and her husband work full time. They've got two children involved in after-school activities and are also hosting a foreign exchange student.

So, Mom, what's for dinner?

"I like to cook," White said. "I just don't have time to cook. I really needed some help with the main courses."

Enter Kelly Chandler, the owner of Kelly's Kitchen. Since July, the affable Chandler has established a weekly routine of preparing family-size entrees, breakfasts and desserts for a fast-growing list of customers. Chandler, a mother of three, and her husband, Joe, converted a storage room in the basement of their east Wichita home into a 200-square-foot kitchen that meets Kansas Department of Health and Environment regulations.

It's a labor of love for Chandler, who ran a home-based meal preparation business for 2 1/2 years in Borger, Texas, before her husband accepted a job with Koch Industries in Wichita.

"That's important to us, that family mealtime," Chandler said. "Dinner is usually your best guarantee of the three meals that the entire family can sit down together, talk about how your day went, what can I help you with, questions about homework.

"It's also a chance for moms to watch what their kids are getting nutrition-wise for at least one meal."

Chandler's business has grown by word of mouth, starting with her neighbors and parents of students at St. Thomas Aquinas Elementary School, where her children attend. This week, she e-mailed her ever-changing weekly menu to approximately 360 customers.

The options include premium entrees like broiled Parmesan tilapia and beef burgundy. Chandler also prepares a variety of ethnic entrees like Mexican casserole and Cajun chicken, as well as a breakfast casserole. Her latest dessert option was a Southern pecan cake with caramel frosting.

Kelly's Kitchen entrees come in small (two people), medium (four) and large (six) sizes. Prices on a recent menu ranged from $6 for a small entree to $20 for a large premium entree. Chandler does not set a minimum order requirement.

"I really just don't like cooking that much," said Phyllis Clem, who likes Chandler's practice of keeping a list of ingredient likes and dislikes for customers. "It makes it a lot simpler for me as I'm out the door if I can just set something out to thaw or in the Crock-pot."

Chandler asks for orders to be placed by Tuesday so she can begin her weekly shopping. Meals are ready on Fridays, with a set time for pickup at her home. Chandler also offers deliveries for $2, or if five people from the same location place an order, she delivers for free.

Chandler said that while her barbecue dishes were popular in Texas, Wichita customers are fond of her seafood options. Meat loaf and ravioli have also been common choices.

Wherever she cooks, Chandler's business has been well received. She said My Kitchen Inc., her business in Borger, accumulated $1,500 to $2,000 in weekly sales by the end of the first year.

Kelly's Kitchen experienced four times growth in Chandler's first month of business.

"I think there are definitely more working moms in Wichita than there were in Borger," Chandler said. "And we deliver. That's just one more layer of convenience."