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Most people have been there. It’s 5 p.m., and it’s been a long day at work. You’re starving, but you don’t have a plan for dinner. You’ve already eaten out more times this week than you’d like to admit. So, what do you do?
Jess Williamson, ex-corporate communications manager, mom of four and owner of Cream City Casseroles, can help. Her dinner delivery service is the only one like it in the metro-Milwaukee area. And it’s changing the lives of working moms (and dads), young professionals other busy people in Milwaukee and Waukesha County.
"Everyone is busy. And, eventually, you realize that you just can’t do everything," she says. "I love to cook, but I don’t love having to cook under duress. And eating out gets expensive. As a family of six, we can drop $60 easily at a drive-through. But, this gives people a guilt-free option for a quick dinner."
Williamson specializes in casserole dishes like baked spaghetti, creamy chicken and biscuits, pizza casserole, macaroni and cheese and sauced burritos. Pricing runs $21-36 for between four to eight servings, averaging out at about $4.25 per person (plus leftovers). Salad, brownies and rice pudding are also available as add-ons to your casserole order.
Make an order online before midnight on Saturday and she’ll deliver your choice of casseroles right to your workplace or daycare center the following Wednesday. Heating instructions are included. Pop dinner in the oven and enjoy it right away or refrigerate and bake within the next two nights. Meals can also be frozen, so busy families can order multiple meals ahead of time and thaw them as needed.
Williamson, a native Milwaukeean with a background in food service and a degree in mass communications, quit her corporate job last November, after deciding she needed to achieve a better work-life balance.
With four children, she often found it difficult to balance all of her family obligations with her busy work-life. And she knew others were likely in the same position as she was. So, she set out to pursue a dream which had been percolating for years.
"My plan for Cream City Casseroles has been written on grocery lists and to-do lists for years," she says. "But, once I quit my job I was able to invest in the research needed to move forward. I ran focus groups with people to find out what people wanted, and looked into state and local licensing and regulations."
She also discovered LilyWorks in the Easter Seals building in Waukesha, a licensed, state-of-the-art, accessible commercial kitchen for private food preparation or food service incubator businesses. The kitchen offered her an affordable option for kitchen space, along with both equipment and refrigerated storage space.
When it came time to craft her menu offerings, Williamson put a great deal of thought into what to offer. She focused on classic comfort food dishes made with fresh herbs and as many locally procured ingredients as possible.
"I don’t use condensed soups," she says. "And everything from biscuits to sauces is made from scratch. So, it’s something people can feel good about eating.
Williamson says she’s happy with how the business has grown since its launch in March. She currently delivers between 15-20 casseroles a week and is developing a loyal base of return customers, as well as new customers who purchase casseroles for both themselves or others.
"The biggest surprise has been how many people have started purchasing the casseroles for others," she notes. "I’ve seen them used as housewarming gifts, as well as items purchased for moms with new babies. It’s a great idea to stock someone else’s fridge during a hard or busy time."
And Williamson says that starting her own business has not only freed up much-needed time to spend with her family, but it’s also been fulfilling in other – sometimes unexpected – ways.
"I always liked what I was doing at work," Williamson says. "But I feel so much more fulfilled doing what I’m doing now. I feel really privileged to be able to help someone out. It’s an honor to cook for people; it’s such a personal gift that you’re giving. It’s very rewarding."
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.