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Posted on Fri, Aug 7, 2009 : 4:48 a.m.

Local Love Fridays: What's Cooking Ann Arbor

By Jennifer Shikes Haines

Shikes Haines What's Cooking Ann Arbor bag
You have a toddler. Or maybe you have two strapping teenagers. You and your significant other both work. You believe in great nutrition for your family, as well as the restorative power of dinners at home. Maybe you're single, busy and want to eat a healthy meal without major hassle or expense.

Oh, wait.

You really don't have the time/energy/interest to cook.

Stacy Williams, of What's Cooking Ann Arbor, saw that need and went on a mission to fill it.

Shikes Haines - Stacy Williams checking grilled chicken at What's Cooking Ann Arbor
When you talk with Stacy, you can't help but be carried away with her enthusiasm for what she does. She's also very community-oriented: she wants people to eat good, healthy meals (she uses organic ingredients as often as possible, and she uses no ingredients that contain msg, high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated [trans] fats); she wants people to enjoy their family/evening time; and she wants to facilitate this. She's also reaches out to the community in other ways - creating fundraising opportunities and renting out her commercial kitchen space to like-minded Locavorious owner, Rena Basch.

Her customers are equally enthusiastic. Marietta Van Buhler, mother of the two strapping (6'4") teens mentioned above, has this to say about her experience as a What's Cooking Ann Arbor customer: "I was feeling bad with the amount of fast food supplementing that I was relying on to feed my family - and when I saw Stacy's 'What's Cooking' advertised with fresh and healthy whole grains and great taste... I gave it a try... it was everything she promised and then some. She cooks the way I would for my family if I had time." Jennifer Waljee, a surgery resident at University of Michigan Hospital, concurs: "Stacy's service provides healthy and delicious food with a lot of variety. We all have different tastes (my husband is a big meat-eater and I lean towards the vegetarian options), and there is always something for each of us. The convenience is hard to beat, and it has been a lifesaver for us. I recommend her to people all the time!"

Shikes Haines Becky Smith and Stacy Williams in the What's Cooking Ann Arbor Kitchen
In addition to being the primary chef, Stacy has hired eight people part-time as her business has grown over the past three years. One of her cooks is a former customer. Becky Smith loved being able to use Stacy's services at a time when she needed that flexibility in her life, and now she's delighted to help Stacy make that convenience available for many more people. "I always tell people about the different options, the fact that this can work for many kinds of people, and that the ingredients are all fresh and healthy."

Shikes Haines Lunch Pals boxes
Even in the Michigan economy, Stacy hasn't seen a drop-off in customers, and that's probably due to keeping prices reasonable. Her weekly menus are varied, and you can order something as simple as "Lunch Pals" for $5 (which include a variety of spreads or other protein, fruit, vegetables, crackers and a homemade [nut free] cookie), or take part in her salad "bar", or order adult-sized main dishes for $10.

This week's offerings include a summer vegetable pasta, sweet and sour stir fry with chicken or tofu with a choice of quinoa or rice, thai noodles with shredded beef, roasted cod, and chicken with black bean salsa. Sides include steamed broccoli, her salad bar options, spinach balls and tabbouleh. An order of four lemon-blueberry scones is available for $5, and for the summer time, there is a "Picnic Pals" option, including a variety of healthy sandwiches, cut-up veggies, a piece of fruit, a half-side of this week's specialty salad, and two of the homemade cookies. Once your weekly order is placed, there are many pick-up points around Ann Arbor and for orders over $50, your order will be delivered to your door.

Shikes Haines Lentil/Pasta Salad from What's Cooking Ann Arbor

Stacy Williams started her business after a long odyssey in dental hygienics and sales, followed by health care sales. She's always liked helping people and that's been a constant. Working with a big pharmaceutical was a less comfortable fit, and she'd always had a yen to turn her love of cooking into something she could do full-time. After falling into a job cooking for a friend's party (where the friend didn't want to cook), she received so many compliments that she conducted an informal marketing survey and one respondent said, "Call me. I'll be your first customer."

While it was challenging to figure out quality cooking in mass quantities at the beginning, it's now become second nature - she easily pulls out three hundred meals per week on average. Her customer base is broad - parents, singles, elderly parents whose sons/daughters live far away, tax accountants during tax season, other professionals during "crunch" times - all have been customers at one time or another.

Helping people has never been in doubt - it's what Stacy Williams loves and what she does best. The fact that she can now do this by helping many people eat delicious food and have more relaxed evenings? The best of all worlds. And from everyone I've talked to, it shows in her cooking.

Let's eat!

Shikes Haines - Pesto pasta with grilled chicken at What's Cooking Ann Arbor

What's Cooking Ann Arbor can be reached here, by phone 734-645-5287 or by e-mail info at whatscookinga2 dot com. Information on how to get started is here, and you can see the full repertoire of dishes here.

Each Friday, I will be highlighting a small, local food business.

I'm Jennifer Haines and my blog is a2eatwrite. Please let me know about any small area food businesses by contacting me at: Jenshaines at gmail dot com or 734-662-1693.


Jennifer Shikes Haines

Mon, Aug 10, 2009 : 8:05 a.m.

Brittany - I really do think she provides a good service for those who need her and can afford it. Goofball - you sound a little conflicted! I agree, though, that if I lived in Belgium, I'd have to have the fries occasionally - they're incredible!


Mon, Aug 10, 2009 : 5:08 a.m.

that pasta looks wonderful! It sure sounds soooooo much better than available meals in supermarkets with so much better quality ingredients! Yet I'd feel guilty for buying prepared meals regularly. There's so many ways to quickly prepare a meal, Jan tells me all the time. Then as a Belgian, I also need my portion of take-out fries regularly :D So I must plead guilty to fast-food though.

Brittany Noel

Sun, Aug 9, 2009 : 11:25 a.m.

what a wonderful story! it's so cool to see someone doing this for other people.

Jennifer Shikes Haines

Sat, Aug 8, 2009 : 7:38 a.m.

@Anisoptera - you sound like another, very happy customer @Alex - I have a friend whom I know wishes this were in MN, too - I really think that Stacy has something here. @Momisodes - I really think Stacy has a terrific thing going. @Stacy - It's nice that you can see some enthusiastic response from your customers, too!


Sat, Aug 8, 2009 : 6:28 a.m.

Thank you to What's Cooking! customers for allowing me to do what I LOVE! Jen- I really enjoyed getting to know you too!


Fri, Aug 7, 2009 : 7:40 p.m.

What a wonderful establishment. It is so difficult to find restaurants who strive to provide healthy options with so much variety. I loved learning about Stacey and her business.

Alex Elliot

Fri, Aug 7, 2009 : 6:16 p.m.

I wish she was located in MA! Lately I've been resorting to frozen Trader Joe meals when things are hectic. Not the same thing though as a fresh meal.


Fri, Aug 7, 2009 : 2:38 p.m.

I love "What's Cooking". We usually get three meals a week. It helps us over that mid-week hump when we would otherwise resort to fast food because of the long hours we work.

Jennifer Shikes Haines

Fri, Aug 7, 2009 : 1:06 p.m.

I really enjoyed meeting Stacy and learning more about her business - I'm glad you've had such a good experience with her!


Fri, Aug 7, 2009 : 11:07 a.m.

I'm so glad to see "What's Cooking!" recognized - it's a great business & Stacy is wonderful to work with not to mention, of course, she's a terrific cook. I've been a happy, satisfied customer for about two years - her food is wonderful! - and am interested to read more about her business. Thank you for this story.