Frozen aisle food without the aisle

It's a quarter past five. You're still at the office. It's snowing outside, you worked through lunch and you know your freezer at home is near empty.

It’s a quarter past five. You’re still at the office. It’s snowing outside, you worked through lunch and you know your freezer at home is near empty.

Like many working professionals these days, you don’t have the time or the energy to cook a full meal at home, but you also don’t want to eat a box full of preservatives from the grocery store freezer aisle.

Now, you don’t have to, thanks to Cozy Foods’ Amy O’Rourke.

“It’s freezer-aisle food that’s homemade,” she says.

O’Rourke’s new business, barely three months old and already simmering, provides home-cooked frozen meals that are delivered to the doors to busy Yukoners. She rents kitchen space from L’Association Franco-Yukonnaise and runs a sort of phantom restaurant. She has a set menu posted on her website and Facebook page and offers same-day service on her frozen food creations whenever she can.

“It started when I was working my first nine-to-five, and found that there wasn’t enough time in the day to cook for myself, especially with Whitehorse being such an active community. Trying to get out and do something active and be social and eat well was just too much to fit in,” she says.

“I looked for the service, because I know that it exists down south. When I found that it didn’t exist here, I decided that within the year I would go for it,” she says.

Just over a year ago she left her jobs and set out to build Cozy Foods.

Now she spends about 20 hours in the kitchen every week, chopping, slicing, and sauteing. In three months, she’s already amassed around 40 repeat customers plus others who place orders here and there. She’s also taken on menu planning and food expediting for a local contractor in town.

Most of her customers are younger, busier professionals or new families.

“Once moms find out about me, they know how valuable the service is. I had a couple wonderful days where I just delivered gift certificates to families.

“There’s a need for this,” she says. “When I started this business, it was because I wanted the service. It’s hard to cook a home-cooked meal every day. By the time you’re done, it’s 9 o’clock and then you don’t get any personal time. I think it’s very valuable for people. Once they’ve ordered, they always come back.”

It’s a challenge figuring out exactly which dishes freeze and keep the best. Most of her menu is comfort food like chicken pot pie or bison stew.

She goes through about 10 pounds of carrots, the same amount of bison and about eight pounds of chicken every week, O’Rourke says.

“They’re very traditional, soul-warming kind of dishes. I do a lot of chicken pot pies, bison stew, mac ‘n cheese. I try and make sure that I have a bit for everyone. I really like curries, so I always have a couple of dishes just dedicated to curries,” O’Rourke says.

O’Rourke focuses on the most time-consuming food like soups and stews that most people don’t have the time to make themselves.

“Anything that’s cozy,” she says, laughing.

On average the meals cost about $8 a portion, and come in singles, couples or family portions. A family-sized order is twice as large as a couple’s and feeds about four people, she says.

“I try to offer same-day service whenever possible. I’m a small business and I’m just one person, but I really try to fill whatever has been ordered that day, every day.”

People tend to order in bulk, and keep a stock in their home freezers for last-minute meals, she says.

But if quitting time hits and you completely forgot to figure out dinner, O’Rourke also keeps a supply of single portions on hand herself.

“I keep an inventory of everything. I don’t cook-to-order because I’m just renting this kitchen and I’m not exactly a factory,” she said.

Along with the convenience, O’Rourke also places a lot of importance on cooking healthy meals without all the grocery-store junk.

“I think the market has changed in terms of what people desire. You don’t feel great about walking down the freezer isle in the grocery store. We’re educated consumers, and we know that along with buying a convenient meal you’re also buying lots of preservatives and additives and high sodium.

“I’m just simply offering a frozen-aisle alternative. My meals go straight from your freezer to your oven or your microwave. You can feel good about eating it because it’s a home-cooked meal and doesn’t have all that crap in it,” she says.

Five years down the road, O’Rourke wants to open a location of her own and have a staff of one or two people who love to cook.

“It’s important now, because I don’t have a location, to stick to a set menu. But it’d be great if somebody could come in and sort of just riffle through the freezer and fine whatever suits their fancy,” she says.

“It would kind of be like mom’s cooking. Whatever we are cooking that day you could get warm for lunch.”

She’s even thinking about holding cooking classes, and opening her future kitchen up to cooking with other people.

“We could each cook five-dozen perogies and take them home. I could have a garden and do those sort of master gardener programs that are offered by Yukon College, and then make our food together,” she says.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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