- Associated Press - Thursday, January 8, 2015

STERLING, Ill. (AP) - Brandi Langner is passionate about the importance of eating real food.

She defines “real” meals as the healthier alternative to the processed foods and takeout that Americans eat more of as they get busier.

As a working mom who has juggled the adults’ schedules with those of two busy daughters, she understands how difficult it is to cook healthy meals. Her new business, No Reservations, can help by bringing her home-cooked meals into the homes of others.

No Reservations is a home-based personal chef business that is the culmination of a dream that just wouldn’t die.

“I’ve thought about this for a very long time, but I didn’t know what form it would take,” said Langner, 45, of Sterling. “I grew up in a household where we usually ate real food, and I’ve always known I wanted to get people to do that again.”

For a long time, the timing for starting a business wasn’t quite right. Between family and her job as executive director of the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home in Dixon, the dream was deferred. After a little research, however, she became convinced that the dream was within reach.

“I looked at options online, and discovered that personal chefs are an actual branch of the culinary arts,” Langner said. “The groundwork was laid, and it was easier to jump into than I had thought.”

In April, she ordered training materials, and by Nov. 1, she had a website and Facebook page to get the business jumping.

“I just really pushed myself,” she said. “It was going to be baptism by fire, and I had to set deadlines for getting things together.”

All clients begin their No Reservations experience with a consultation session. Langner has menus and makes suggestions, but she expects a lot of input on menu choices.

“The consultation is in their home and it’s all about the client,” Langner said. “I really need them to take an active role, not just for likes and dislikes, but for things like allergies and other special health considerations like gluten-free and sodium intake.”

She needs at least a week’s notice to schedule a cook date. After planning the menu, she shops for fresh ingredients the morning the cooking will be done. She insists on bringing her own cookware.

The customary package is 20 meals that work well as leftovers. There are five entrees and five side dishes. Cost is $300 plus the cost of groceries.

“That’s the amount of food that is needed to justify my time with preparation, planning, shopping and cooking,” Langner said.

She is working on other options for those who don’t need or can’t afford a package of that size. Credits are given for client referrals.

Langner said she is a self-taught chef, and has done a great deal of nutrition research. She tries to offer a mix of simple and special entrees, but the common denominator is fresh and healthy ingredients. Some of her go-to entrees are roasted chicken and vegetables, spinach pasta with ricotta and marinara sauce, and chicken Parmesan.

Langner’s is one of a growing number of home-based businesses that are no longer flying under the radar of local business officials. Some of the entrepreneurs hope to one day have storefronts, while others are content to remain in their home office.

“Home-based businesses are growing rapidly in the Sauk Valley, and the Rock Falls Chamber is working on ways to better help them with their needs,” said Bethany Bland, CEO and president of the chamber.

Bland said the chamber board recently approved new membership prices that target small home-based operations. A committee is being formed to assist with that segment’s outreach and marketing needs.

“We can talk about business plans, budgets, and goals,” Bland said. “Some are not advertising at all. Our long-term goal is to get these members together and give them specialized support. It’s a different group we’re serving, but ther needs.”

In any economy, it’s always a good idea for a new business owner to minimize risk, which makes the home-based option all the more appealing.

Langner appreciates not having to deal with the brick and mortar aspect of a new business. She hasn’t entirely ruled out that option, however, at some point in the future.

“While I’ve learned to never say never, I don’t think I’d ever turn this into a restaurant, but I might consider having storefront office space.”

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Source: The (Sterling) Daily Gazette, https://bit.ly/1y9wv0u

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Information from: The Daily Gazette, https://www.saukvalley.com

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