Startup Spotlight: Dinner Belles
Startup Spotlight: Dinner Belles
This week we talk with Maureen Boyle, Founder of Dinner Belles.
What is Dinner Belles?
Dinner Belles is an on-site, meal prep concept that brings people together to prepare great tasting, healthy meals to take home and enjoy stress-free.
We prepare the meals with your friends, coworkers, clubs or social groups. All preparation is done on-site — whether that’s in your home or in your board room! It’s a perfect alternative to a traditional night out, bridal shower or corporate team building event. Meals are well balanced with nutritional information and cooking instructions right on the label.
As many have said, “It’s like paint night, but you bring home a meal!”
What was your Eureka moment: how did Dinner Belles get started?
With a background in senior living and having an aging parent, I was disturbed by the lack of quality resources seniors have for socialization and cooking/eating if they don’t move out of their home into a community senior living environment, and/or don’t have adult children nearby. Seniors still want to socialize and need to eat healthy! That started the Dinner Belles concept.
As I peeled back the layers even more, it took me back to a personal life event, where I found myself abruptly widowed in my 30’s, far away from friends and family. I wasn’t cooking, was eating poorly, and craving some socialization that would make cooking and eating for one not such a chore. Knowing how and what to cook and eat didn’t matter. Having fun with friends is what mattered, and to leave an evening of fun with meals for a few days would have been great!
I soon realized that Dinner Belles can serve a variety of age groups in a variety of settings. Food and eating is one of our basic needs, and working with it seems to equalize folks. That is why it is great for team building as well. Heck, at parties, don’t we all end up in the kitchen?
How did you build your team?
This is still in progress. I initially started with a partner, but she chose to move on earlier this year. My current model is building a network of Culinary and Nutrition professionals which includes Registered Dietitians and Culinary Nutritionists, Chefs, Food Service Professionals and Foodies that I pull from. As in any industry, good people are hard to find; but we know them when we see them!
What is your company philosophy driving your company culture?
Simply put: Good food paired with good company is a major key to health!
Food creates memories. Engaging in a fun, social event while preparing a meal can create fond memories and bonds which can improve what and how much a person may eat. The Dinner Belles goal is to improve overall health and morale through meal preparation and socialization in a group setting.
Startup life is full of failures and ‘make it work’ moments – can you identify how you bounced back from one of yours?
The abrupt departure of my partner earlier this year was very difficult both personally and professionally. At that time, Dinner Belles was just the two of us. But, when you have a passion for something, you don’t let those things stop you! I became even more resourceful and creative and most recently, holding a sold out event at the Boston CIC with great feedback confirmed I had bounced back.
I grew up in a family business (garden and nursery sales) and I remember many dinner conversations about business, about new product lines gained, others lost, and yes, even trusted relationships burned. Yet, my parents kept chugging along. To this day, I am in awe how dad and mom put the 6 of us through college from selling peat moss and cow manure!
What did you learn from your first customers?
A lot! We piloted the concept for a year via focus survey groups. Their input helped to both broaden and refine the concept as well as make it even more FUN!
What has the Boston ecosystem provided you in terms of resources?
CIC Boston (Julia Hansen), BranchFood (Lauren Abda), The Venture Cafe (Kevin Wiant), CommonWealth Kitchen (Roz Freeman), and Boston Food System Tufts e-list service have all been instrumental in the progress of Dinner Belles.
The creativity, sense of community and willingness to help and collaborate is so empowering and energizing, it is hard to put into words.
And in greater Boston, Woburn Business Association (Heather Maguire) has been hugely helpful as well ( I live in Woburn). These organizations and people involved truly want you to succeed, and when you feel someone has your back, you can do anything!
What is the Boston ecosystem lacking from your perspective?
I was recently reading an article by Vinayak Ranade on just this topic, and what hit home was: “Ask not what startups can do for you, ask what you can do for startups”.
At this point in time, Boston’s ecosystem is giving Dinner Belles what we need.
What’s the best/worst piece of advice you were given along the way?
“Think Big” (thanks, Dad)
“Under promise and over deliver”
“You are not political enough to succeed in your own business.” This was from an old boss, a high level corporate executive back in 1996 when I left the company and started a consulting business. I have always erred on the side of honesty and directness and it has never held me back. He is now one of my biggest Dinner Belles fans 🙂
What was the best thing that happened to you last year?
I got to share a last evening with my 95 year old mother cheering on our favorite Pittsburgh Steelers (we grew up in Pittsburgh), waving the Terrible towel, and her telling me that she was “ready” and me responding that I will be ok because I know she is “ready”. She passed a week later, just short of her 96th birthday. That night was a gift, and strangely enough, the best thing that happened to me last year.
What does the future hold for Dinner Belles?
A lot of hard work and allot of fun. The world is our oyster!