"Meal assembly," one of the fastest growing food trends in the country, is making its way to Columbia for those who are too busy to grocery shop, to slice and dice, to sweat over a hot stove for the evening meal or any other.
Let's Dish hopes to open its doors Wednesday at the Snowden Center on Oakland Mills Road.
The store's owners provide the place (a cross between a commercial kitchen and Starbucks, with beverages and conversation included), the ingredients and the recipes. The customers put it all together, assembly-line style and package it to go.
No prep work or cleanup involved for them. All customers have to do is show up with a cooler large enough to carry eight to 12 meals -- each with enough servings for four to six people. The cost is about $155 for eight meals or $195 for 12. The cooking takes place at home.
"You could take home six chicken breasts in one dish," said Alexa Corcoran, the store's co-owner. "You could really carry home 40 to 60 pounds of food." And freeze it.
Corcoran owns the store with her husband, Rick, and another couple, Lisa Hardiman and Erik Ginsberg. The owners licensed the brand from the original owners in Minneapolis, who have since franchised the concept.
Now the foursome operate stores in Timonium and Bel Air in Maryland and in Ashburn, Va. Early next year, they hope to open three others in Leesburg, then Gaithersburg and Alexandria.
Why add Columbia to the mix?
Because 10 to 15 percent of the customer base at the Timonium store comes from Howard County, Corcoran said. "Many of them drive 40 minutes to get to the store, cook and then go home again," Corcoran said. "We didn't even do much advertising out there. It was mostly word of mouth."
Registration for "dishing" sessions takes place online at www.letsdish.net.
High-Rise Project Advances
Construction on the highest of Columbia's high-rises should begin this May at the site of the old Bennigan's restaurant off Wincopin Circle on Little Patuxent Parkway.
WCI Communities of Bonita Springs, Fla., plans to offer 22 stories of condominiums, with 162 two- and three-bedroom units ranging from $500,000 to more than $1 million, said Tony Albanese, president of the firm's mid-Atlantic towers.
Marsha S. McLaughlin, director of Howard County's planning and zoning department, said the building will be the highest in Columbia.
The project has met all technical requirements and awaits approval from the county's planning board, McLaughlin said.
If all goes as planned, WCI will open its sales pavilion in January to take reservations, finalize contracts in February and close on units in May 2008.
The building should include retail space at its base and feature private elevators. "You park your car in the garage, walk into the elevator and it takes you into your residence," Albanese said. "You don't have to walk into a hallway."
Battling Phone Fraud
Western Union Financial Services Inc. agreed to take steps to help curb fraud-induced transfers of money to telemarketers.
Under an agreement signed this month with Maryland and 46 other states, the company agreed to fund an $8.1 million national consumer awareness program and display prominent warnings on the forms consumers fill out to wire money, Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said in a statement.
The idea is to prevent schemes such as the ones involving fraudulent telemarketers who inform consumers that they have won a large sum of money but must pay taxes or other charges to claim their award. The victims are then directed to send the money by wire.
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Mail: Howard Extra, 10490 Little Patuxent Pkwy., Suite 650, Columbia, Md. 21044