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Posted: Sunday, October 18, 2009 12:00 pm

By Don Bolding

Killeen Daily Herald

Meredith Viguers has become a pillar of the food service business in three short years with her Let Us Do the Cooking, but neither the startup nor any major expansion was her idea. She's just been responding to "why-don't-you" questions from customers.

First, she was doing a lot of cooking in her home, just for friends and for free, and her friends asked why she didn't start a little business while her husband, Jonathan, was deployed to Iraq. So she started marketing home-cooked meals for individuals and families.

The first customers asked why she didn't start catering. So Viguers did that, mostly by herself, but soon she needed help.

"At first, catering for 50 was a lot. Then that was easy, and then 100 was a lot. Now we cater events for 1,000 or 1,200 people, and we think 'only 200 people' is a snap," Viguers said.

The latest "why-don't-you" resulted in a small restaurant carrying the name Let Us Do the Cooking in W.S. Young Plaza at 2201 S. W.S. Young Drive.

A franchised home-cooking, carry-out business named Dream Dinners was vacating the space and selling some fixtures, and the owners said she should consider moving in.

Refrigerators and other big items with plumbing were already there, plus a lease with 18 months remaining.

The only major project was installing an industrial-strength stove and attachments, and the cafeteria-style facility opened Sept. 23. Even the colors, a rusty red and mustard yellow, closely matched the ones already on Let Us Do the Cooking's logo.

"We first talked to them in February and asked for time because most of the military balls are in March and April and then we have weddings in the early summer. We asked them to hold off until July to give us time to work on it," Viguers said.

"I've just let business dictate how I've grown," she said. "And I've never stopped offering takeout home cooking because those customers were my bread and butter in the beginning, and I'm not going to forget them. And I've been careful not to grow so fast that I have to cut corners on quality."

The takeout business is a fertile field, Viguers said, because most local restaurants are national brands.

"Most are good, but there's a huge longing for homemade comfort food among people without much time to prepare it themselves,"

The restaurant is open for lunch, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday so the catering and takeout activities can keep going with a full head of steam.

The menu is standard with variations on beef tips, pork chops and other homestyle entrees with sides, and a display case offers containers with four to six servings of lasagna and casseroles.

"My measure of success is seeing familiar faces visiting again," Viguers said.

Shortly after she started the home-based business, she converted the family's kitchen to allow preparation for 300 or so meals to be transported to events, and the restaurant's kitchen can handle about 400 more.

The largest events are usually either at Fort Hood or at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center. The conference center has preparation facilities of its own.

A slow week involves two catering events. December means three or four events a day with the company's one van and one truck shuttling back and forth to the kitchens, often with the aid of family cars.

Since the business' startup, Viguers' husband has retired from the Army and become a Killeen firefighter and emergency medical technician.

Viguers said her husband works 24 hours on and 48 off, and those 48 hours are devoted to Let Us Do the Cooking. Her parents moved from Florida to join the business.

Other than family, all her help is part-time contract labor, and she has a database of several hundred people. Only in the heaviest crunch times does she have to call on temporary agencies.

"It's been a steep learning curve. I had been a bank manager and done some other things before, but none of them involved food service. But it hasn't been hard because I've just responded to what people wanted, saying, 'OK, I'll do it' and then figuring out a way."

Contact Don Bolding at dbolding@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7557.

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