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Houston County Living

Meals that Keep on Giving

Jul 28, 2021 08:46PM ● By Alexa Tebben
     Dinner. A lovely thought that can make your mouth water while simultaneously arouse dread. In the
  hustle of everyday life, cooking dinner quickly becomes a chore rather than a pleasure. The people of Acres & Oak Kitchen understand this and work to provide families with delicious ready-to-cook family style meals to give you back your evenings.
     Evan Acres, owner of Acres & Oak Kitchen, tells me of his unique journey towards becoming a business owner who is passionate about family style meals. In 2019, Evan bought Macon’s Casserole Shop from his mom, Tonya Sadler, who owned it for ten years. Taking over the family business was not always Evan’s intention. “I can remember when she was originally thinking about buying the business years prior,” he recalls. “I laughed at her and thought casseroles have to be a dying business.” As a child, he did not fully appreciate the ease and comfort of a pre-homemade meal. “Now,” he says, “I’m in love with casseroles and what it truly means and how it provides for people a full meal.”
      Evan jumped into the business eager to serve the community with exceptional food and service. Their fresh, simple ingredients are combined to create an experience your pallet will continue to crave through morning. Lasagnas, Shepherd’s pies, pot roast – you name it – there is something on the menu for everyone. Made with love, each family style meal is a warm slice of comfort your family will devour.
      When Evan and his wife, Erika, bought Casserole Shop, they had dreams of rebranding the store and expanding locations to reach its full potential. While “Acres” represents the family that owns the business, “Oak” represents the dinner tables that are often made from wood. Now the new name, Acres & Oak Kitchen, serves to represent the family table. “Our goal is to get people back around the family table,” Evan explains. And he hoped this name would express that intention.
     However, they worried the community would not welcome this change. “The business has ultimately been around for 30 years and the fear was that if we changed it, it would have a huge effect and people would not support it.” The community pleasantly surprised them and welcomed these changes with open arms and hungry bellies.
     Additionally, Evan saw the potential of Macon’s on-the-go family style meals and longed to introduce
  their product to surrounding communities. “We opened the Perry location in March of last year,” he says. The timing was surreal. Only a week after Perry’s grand opening, the community along with the rest of the world experienced the first effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. While Acres & Oak Kitchen was just opening its doors, surrounding restaurants were quickly closing theirs. Because their meals are pre-cased, Acres & Oak Kitchen could stay open and continue feeding the community. “God provided and sustained a business to open the month the pandemic began only to have it thrive,” Evan says incredulously. “It was great, it encouraged me.”
     Evan speaks more about the expansion and his plans for the second location. “When we went to Perry, our intention wasn’t to open the exact same shop,” he says. Valuing the unique character and distinctiveness of Perry, he assembled a team of employees that have a heart and passion for the people of that community. “We want the people that work at the Perry store to be associated with that community and be supportive of that community.” In doing this, he hired Cheri Goodman as the storefront manager for the Perry location. “She is somebody who knows Perry, who loves Perry,” Evan says excitedly. His decision to hire local, passionate people reflects the integrity of the Acres & Oak Kitchen brand.
      Only a month after opening the Perry location, Acres & Oak Kitchen implemented an initiative to give back to the community. For every three meals purchased by a single customer, Acres & Oak Kitchen donated the fourth to those on the frontlines of Covid-19. “During the month of April,” Evan says, “we gave away $20,000 worth of casseroles. Between two different hospitals, one here in Macon and one in Perry, we were able to give casseroles directly to those that were fighting the pandemic.” After seeing the impact of their donations, they began donating 1% of their sales back into the community in what they now call, Acres of Giving. Evan speaks of his customers with pride for the spirit of generosity they possess that blesses their neighbors, healthcare workers and friends.
     While Evan is overjoyed at what his customers have done to give, he feels this is only the beginning.
  “Ultimately, our goal is that somebody would be inspired to serve.” Already, they are seeing this happen in their stores every day. “Our food ends up the majority of the time being purchased by a person taking it to a person in need,” Evan says. People often purchase these family style meals to gift to new parents, widows and families in need. “Hearing those stories of how our business was used to serve somebody or how our business helped someone out of a difficult time, that is what drives me,” Evan exclaims.
     Acres & Oak Kitchen provides employees the space to connect with customers on a personal as well as professional level. “We care more about service than we do anything else,” Evan assures me. “If you want to spend an hour talking to us and spend three dollars on a bag of rolls, we’ll do that.” His encouragement of building and fostering relationships with customers inspires those that work under him to do the same.
      The store reflects their dedication to making the dinner process a relaxing yet thrilling culinary experience. When walking into Acres & Oak Kitchen, Evan tells me, “You were made to feel like you’re coming home.” With delicious meals on display simply ready for your choosing, you are encouraged to browse the store just like you would browse your own kitchen. “We want [to create] that same experience, the same relaxed feel of being able to look into the refrigerator and say, ‘I want this to eat tonight.’”
     With plans to open more locations in the future, Evan hopes to continue reaching and impacting communities throughout Georgia one family style meal at a time. “We have a centralized kitchen here in Macon,” he explains. “The Perry store doesn’t have a commercial kitchen in the back of the shop. Our food is transported to that store every day.” With the ability to mass produce at the Macon store, fresh product will be delivered to storefronts daily bringing family style meals to a hometown near you, wherever that may be.
     Next time the thought of cooking dinner causes more angst than joy, consider Acres & Oak Kitchen for
  your mealtime rescue. Every homemade casserole you purchase helps support a local business that, in turn, supports its community. So, when that oven timer goes off, you can sit down to dinner knowing that every bite was made by hands that bless the hearts and bellies of the community one meal at a time.

Photography by: Tinika Bennett Photography