In the back kitchen of the Varna Community Center on a Monday afternoon, a radio plays and the smell of roasting vegetables wafts through the air as three women swivel and pivot with large trays and in hand, rushing to complete the more than 200 meal order they’d just received. By tomorrow, the meals will go out to the more than 120 households Rose’s Home Dish calls clients, the same way it has for the past decade.
Running the room is Rose Arena, a trained chef with a constant smile who, through her unique culinary background, has managed to carve out her own niche in the community, serving as somewhat of an in-house chef for a large swath of the area.
Arena’s business is unique in its focus: each week, Rose’s clients visit her website or receive an email with the week’s menu. They order, Arena gets a list and her crew gets to work, preparing a massive quantity of food which is then chilled and put into a Pyrex casserole dish, to be delivered right to your door the next week. The casserole dish, unique for the type of business she runs, serves a special purpose: it presents the image of a real, home-cooked meal.
“It’s not takeout, it’s love in a dish,” Arena said. “It’s comfort. You have the ability to have that peace of mind a few times a week, to not have to run around like your head’s cut off… you can send a dear friend something as if you made it yourself.”
Her business model comes informed by her background as both a chef in catering and restaurant environments as well as her Italian upbringing: one of five siblings, Arena was raised in a home where food meant comfort, that meals were more than just sustenance: they were a gesture, something social that people form a connection to. With Rose’s Home Dish, she saw a way to provide peace of mind to people who were unable to cook for themselves, filling a need for the sick, the elderly and even whole families without the time to sprint around a kitchen at the end of the day.
Because of the nature of her operation, Arena refers to her customers as clients, noting she’s had loyalists since the very beginning. It’s a relationship-grounded business, one in which people come to almost count on that delivery every week. In the days when it was a one-woman business, Arena even used to deliver the meals herself, though now she has several employees including a driver who, at times, will even deliver the meal directly to your refrigerator. Even with the hectic energy of the kitchen, which she’s worked out of for the past eight years (most of the shelves are actually dedicated to Arena’s various appliances and ingredients) the small business is still fully workable with people’s dietary needs, even with a largely-rotating menu offering everything from Shepherd’s Pie and casseroles to mac & cheese and traditional Indian dishes made with the influence of employee Ranjit Sekhon’s family recipes. (Including, Arena says, the bests samosas in town.) All of it comes in that 8” x 8” dish and, even though they are often advertised as being for two or three people can often feed far more than that. It can be easy to overestimate it seems, as Arena stirs a nearly 25 lb. bowl of salmon cakes: she has a lot of mouths to feed.
“We’re all professional and all good at what we do,” Arena said. “We all care.” •