Stephanie Wright is a testament that hard work and creative solutions can bring you a world of happiness and success. She once dreamed of a cooking career, and though she was accepted into culinary school, she was later told that the program would be too physically challenging for someone in a wheelchair. She was crushed after the school encouraged her to withdraw, and she eventually found another business passion. But that’s not the end of her story. In fact, you may have enjoyed one of her culinary creations if you’ve lived in the South for a while. She and her husband, Ken, opened their first meal-assembly retail location in 2004, leading to a successful national franchise operation. After the Great Recession hit a few years later, the business model was forced to change. But that’s not the end of her story either. The demand for her delicious food persisted, and the couple brilliantly changed Dinner A’Fare into a meal-kit delivery company, reborn in 2008, which last year delivered more than 300,000 meals throughout the South. Stephanie is an entrepreneur, mother, chef, wife, business leader and all-around inspiration. But that’s definitely not the end of her story. Learn more about Stephanie Wright, our newest FACE of the South.
Though you grew up in Ohio, you frequently visited your grandparents’ farm in North Carolina. What are your favorite childhood memories of the South? Did you know one day you would move to the region?
I was born in Georgia but moved up north when I was 5 years old. Our only family lived in the South, Atlanta and North Carolina, so we visited often. My grandparents’ farm in North Carolina was a very special place for me … and still is today. I would help my grandfather feed the cattle in the barn and ride in his lap on the tractor when we were in the fields. At dusk he would call the cattle in for dinner, and I’d watch them eat from under the trough while the calves would still be nursing. Every once in a while, I still smell the grain, and it brings back those memories. My grandparents owned the only grocery store in town, and my grandfather was a butcher. They had chickens and sold the eggs, as well as two massive gardens that they ate from all year. My favorite memories are in the garden and kitchen with my grandmother. She would teach me how to plant seeds, can the fresh veggies and make preserves from the fruit in their orchard. I never knew then how special it was and how much I was learning. My grandparents were truly living off the land way before it became popular, and I am so thankful for the time I could spend with them.
I always knew I would end up back down South. I think growing up in Ohio made me want to be back down South even more. I would miss it when we left and always said I would live there when I got older.
What’s your favorite dish on the Dinner A’Fare menu? How do you come up with new entrée ideas?
My current favorites are our Buffalo Chicken Tacos and Garlic Herb Chicken with Potatoes, but we have also had Chicken Lombardy at the house often because our daughter loves it. We are constantly looking for new recipes. We try and use some current trends as inspiration, and I am always flipping through cookbooks and magazines. We do a ton of testing before we decide on a recipe that goes on the menu. We also must make sure that any ingredient we use is available in the quantities that we need. (We delivered over 300,000 dinners last year!)
You dreamed of attending culinary school but were told the physical demands of the program would be too much due to your paralysis. (A 16-year-old Stephanie was left paralyzed after a serious mistake during a routine operation for scoliosis.) You now own and run the successful, delicious Dinner A’Fare with your husband. What would you tell other women facing similar obstacles?
I would say that you should never give up. Make an effort to move forward. It might not feel like you are going in the direction you want it to, but life has a funny way of circling back around to give you what you want as long as you keep moving forward. Do not give up. It might take a while, but you will get what you want if you work hard. If it feels wrong, change directions.
How, and why, do you work with local partners to support Atlanta businesses?
We have been so fortunate in our experiences opening businesses in Atlanta, and we feel that is our turn to give back. I know it seems cliché to say but we honestly love the communities and families we serve dinners in. We love the South, we love Atlanta, and we love the culture that surrounds them. We want to be a positive force in people’s lives, and getting out there and supporting local is a great way to show love and stay connected to what is going on around us. Giving to local businesses and communities is how they stay strong, which is what keeps us strong. It is important to support the people around you and always look at things with a positive lens.
What is the most important lesson you’re trying to teach your daughter, Geneva?
She recently turned 10, and we decided to redo her room. While sitting in an aisle at Hobby Lobby, I was reading inspirational sayings. I called Ken and was crying so hard. I said we have so much to teach her and so little time left to do it. Putting all your effort into what you do is currently what we are talking about. We are trying to show her that if you are going to do something, there is no reason you shouldn’t put 100% effort into it.
Where did you put your Bronze Stevie Award you recently won in the category of Female Entrepreneur of the Year (Consumer Products)?
On my desk, where I can see it every day! I am embarrassed about things like that and don’t like the attention, but I want to show Geneva that women rock, and she will be able to do anything she sets her mind to. It is funny how having a child changed me: I have to force myself to do things I might not have otherwise done because I know she is watching and learning, and I want to teach her the right thing.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
My father once told me to never be jealous. It stuck with me and taught me to try my best to be happy for other people, even when I wanted what they had, and it taught me to go out and get what I wanted. Of course, jealousy is impossible to avoid, but his advice stuck in my head and helped push me.
What are three things you can’t live without (excluding friends, family and faith)?
Mexican food, wine and sweet tea
A huge thank you to Stephanie Wright for sharing her inspiring, and tasty, story. And thanks to Catrina Maxwell of CatMax Photography for today’s lovely photos.
Meet more amazing Southern women in our FACES section — prepare to be inspired!