Curb Side Casseroles brings Memphis convenience to dinner

Curb Side Casseroles offers convenient home-cooked meals for Memphians too busy to cook or who just want a break from the kitchen.

It’s the dilemma of everyone headed home from a busy day at work or after shuttling kids to practice and activities: deciding what’s for dinner.

Bradford Williams feels your pain. In 2007 she founded Curb Side Casseroles, an East Memphis business that allows customers to place meal orders and pick them up on the way home after a long day.

Curb Side Casseroles' typical customer ranges from working parents to stay-at-home moms who are busy taking kids from activity to activity. Basically anyone who wants a home-cooked meal without the effort.

Customers can preorder via phone or email, but walk-in orders are OK, too.

Curb Side Casseroles isn’t the first Memphis food business to provide pick up of prepared meals; restaurants have been in that game for years. But Curb Side Casseroles does service a unique niche of customers who want a homemade meal without investing the time required to cook.

There is a growing industry focused on reducing steps from the meal prep process for busy Memphians. Kroger, for example, allows shoppers to order groceries online and pick up at the store. Other businesses such as Blue Apron deliver recipes and all the ingredients to a customer’s home.

Curb Side Casseroles is for people who need more than just meal planning and shopping removed from the process. But while long workdays and busy schedules make a business model like Curb Side Casseroles sustainable, it doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk.

“It’s hard out there and it’s definitely a risk,” Williams said. “I didn’t want to get in this business. I’ve been in the restaurant business my whole life. My dad was in the food business. I do love it, but it’s hard work. I have two small children.”

Those children actually played a role in the company’s creation. Williams’ husband was working and going to school full time. She picked up side jobs while staying home with her children. One of them involved a teacher’s appreciation meal at her children’s school.

This wasn’t any meal, though. Williams prepared nearly 300 casseroles that were delivered to the teachers. They were offered three casseroles to choose from, which were all fresh. Williams had to buy an upright refrigerator to hold all the meals.

And before she knew it she had teachers calling to order more.

“I had one guy drive up to the door and ask what I had in the freezer,” Williams said. “My dad was visiting and he said, ‘I think someone is trying to tell you something.’”

It helped that Williams jumped in with what she called a strong work ethic that had her ready for 12-hour days. For the first few months customers picked up casseroles at Williams’ home in the late afternoon. She needed a commercial kitchen, and found one at Colonial Park United Methodist Church where she stayed for a year.

Growth and the need for customers to pick up casseroles at her storefront – the church location required her to deliver meals once a week – meant she needed a permanent storefront. Williams found it in East Memphis in what at one time was a house. She rented the garage part of the building and converted it into a commercial kitchen.

Customers picked up orders on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She cooked the other days.

Fast forward nine years and that house at 5130 Wheelis Drive in East Memphis remains Curb Side Casserole’s home. It’s open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Lisa Busby has known Williams since high school and is a Curb Side Casseroles customer.

“Bradford and Curb Side Casseroles has been doing what they do – easily keeping family and friends fed at home – longer than anyone else,” she said. “Getting food from Curb Side is like going to your grandmother’s house. It’s filled with memorable tastes and love. … It’s been so much fun watching my friend do what she loves doing.”

The original menu started with five items and has grown to over 100. Customers can order anything from appetizers to desserts with a variety of entrees. The selections typically are kid-friendly, although a weekly special leans more to the Julia Child-inspired items.

The menu offerings have grown to include breakfast and lunch items. Side items and appetizers are particularly popular during the holidays.

Williams no longer cooks the casseroles; she now has 20 part-time employees that make up cooking and sales teams.

A few select items are purchased from other providers, but most of the menu is prepared by the Curb Side Casseroles team. And every item goes through a tough selection process before it makes its way to the menu.

“For me to bring in somebody it really has to be a top 10, it has to be good,” Williams said. “We have a committee that goes through the recipes we’re testing. If it doesn’t pass it doesn’t make it.”

Williams is happy with the success of Curb Side Casseroles, and she does see potential for a franchise model in other cities.

Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler. 
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