BERRYVILLE — Everyone is so busy with work, afterschool activities and family obligations that it can be tough to get dinner on the table night after night.
Families often fall back on ordering pizza, heating up something frozen from the grocery store or pulling into the closest drive-through restaurant.
But a new business in Berryville is offering another option.
Presto Dinners at 23 Crow St. makes premade frozen entrees that can easily be reheated at home. Rachael and Jonathan Worsley, owners of The Wayside House on nearby Church Street, opened Presto Dinners in late June but they’ve been working on the Presto concept for a long time.
“We’ve always wanted a second business in town,” Jonathan said. “We’ve been chewing on this idea for five years.”
Jonathan, who works a full-time job in Northern Virginia, would often come home after a long day to find a hot meal of Orange Chicken or Pork Meatballs in Tomato Sauce made by Rachael.
“When did you have time to make this today?” he would ask her, knowing Rachael had been busy running the inn.
“She would say, ‘I didn’t. I made it a month ago.’ And that’s when we knew we might have something here,” Jonathan said.
The Worsleys knew if they could figure out a way to offer a variety of tasty entrees and safely package and freeze them, they could offer other busy people a relief from fast food or Lean Cuisine.
“It’s honestly how I’ve kept us fed the last seven years,” said Rachael, who worked for several years at a catering company before the couple moved to Berryville to open the Wayside House.
So how is a Presto Dinners different from Stouffer’s?
For starters, the meals are all prepared by Rachael in the Presto Dinners commercial kitchen on Crow Street. She tries to keep the ingredient list as short and as healthful as possible. For instance, alarmed at the number of ingredients in the white bread she was using for bread crumbs in the meatballs Rachael began making her own bread.
Another difference is the palate-pleasing flavors. Along with everyday staples like meatloaf, lasagna and chicken tenders, Presto Dinners selections also include Mu Shu Pork, Pork and Apricot Stew, Pork and Ricotta Meatballs in Tomato Sauce and Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole. The vegetarian entrees include Butternut Squash Stuffed Shells and Vegan Mushroom Tetrazzini. A few items are gluten friendly.
The entrees typically serve two to three people and price out at $6 or less per serving. Many meals can be cooked from frozen, while others can be reheated immediately.
And unlike dinner kits, such as Blue Apron, no subscriptions or commitments are required. “We didn’t want to get into those games or gimmicks,” Jonathan said. “If you want it, it’s here.”
And since there’s no real cooking involved, there are no pots and pans to clean up.
“It is basically a massive reheating that you’re doing,” Jonathan said.
Berryville resident Jim Koshar is a teacher at Stratford University in Alexandria and often gets home late after his commute. He was delighted to find Presto Dinners was open one recent night before he went home.
“I love that we got this place,” Koshar said as he pulled two dinners from the freezer case and placed them on the counter to pay. “This is a big deal.”
It took years of experimenting with recipes to find out which entrees retain their flavor and which ingredients freeze best.
The Worsleys also enlisted their friends to taste test the entrees and to make sure the reheating directions could be easily understood. Each entree comes with a colorful set of directions.
It also took time to find the right business space — the Worsleys scored big with a spot next door to the ABC store — and to obtain the necessary permits to open a food establishment.
“The town of Berryville has been exceptionally good about all the hoops we had to jump through,” Jonathan said.
And then there was the matter of getting the look — the style — of the business. just right. The retro-looking logo for Presto Dinners is reminiscent of the 1950s, a time when frozen food was beginning to make life easier.
“It’s a time when technology was making life better,” Rachael said. “We can use technology to make things better.”
Presto Dinners hours are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. On Aug. 28, the store will be open will from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.