There is a lot more than food cooking in The Enchanted Kitchen

by Karina Coombs

Pam Ely mixes the last of the pulled pork barbecue for Friday’s Lunch Club.
(Photo By Karina Coombs)

Cooking is therapeutic for Pam Ely. But when breast cancer treatment led to neuropathy in her hands last year, that simple pleasure was taken away. Ely’s friends stepped in to help and one in particular gave her a very special gift: fresh broth, pre-cut vegetables and chicken, allowing Ely to make her famous Magic Soup without the painful prep work. As she stood smiling over the steaming pot, with her son’s arm around her, Ely and her family were able to forget for a moment that she was sick.

A year later she has turned her experiences into The Enchanted Kitchen, a dining club with a heaping side of philanthropy. In addition to offering a number of organic and nutritious dining options, Ely’s enterprise has created The Pay it Forward Club, a community outreach program that currently donates meals to “people who are ill, undergoing treatment, are mourning the loss of a loved one, or are in need of a good, hot meal to boost their spirits.”

A community mobilizes

Cooking for large groups is not new to Ely. In addition to making meals for her family of six—many with food allergies and food sensitivities—she previously had a supper club with 20 members. Last year, as Ely was preparing to turn that venture into The Enchanted Kitchen, she got her diagnosis and everything was put on hold.

Immediately, the town rallied around the family. “The outpouring of love from this community was absolutely overwhelming,” she says. “I still tear up whenever I think about it. There were meals [and] my kids were schlepped around. People I didn’t even know in Carlisle worked to find someone to take care of my [four] kids.” 

At the same time, fourth-grade students at the Carlisle School looked for ways to support their classmate—Ely’s oldest daughter—and her family. The students decided on a Rainbow Loom bracelet fundraiser. Ely, a former writer for the Carlisle Mosquito, wrote an article about the campaign. (See, “School girls respond to Breast Cancer Awareness month in a touching way,” October 16, 2013.) In two weeks the students raised $900. Matching funds increased the balance to $2,700. Ely put the money into a savings account with the understanding that after treatment she would talk with the girls about how best to use it. They decided to give it back to the community through the Pay it Forward Club.

The Enchanted Kitchen is born

Nicole McGeough poses with her flower bouquet from The Enchanted Kitchen’s Pay It Forward Club. McGeough and her family are new to Carlisle. She was nominated for a PIFC meal by a number of families in town as a “Welcome to Carlisle” gift. (Courtesy Photo)

When Ely got through her treatment successfully, she found herself with a new lease on life. “You don’t know what tomorrow brings. You have to live for today,” she explains. “What did I want to do for my community today? I wanted to take care of [them] the way they took care of me.” Ely’s first thought was to create a foundation, but when she shared the idea with her husband, who had been involved with charitable asset management for 15 years, he explained that foundations involved a lot of the bureaucracy she disliked. Instead, he suggested she “Do what you know and do what you love.” 

Ely realized she needed to return to her plan for The Enchanted Kitchen, but also use it as a platform to “do good things.” She reached out to Reverend Diane Miller of the First Religious Society and proposed renting the commercial kitchen space in Union Hall for a supper and lunch club while also developing a community outreach program. Reverend Miller and the Parish Committee approved the plan. In June, Ely went before the Board of Health seeking her Food Service permit. She also received her ServSafe certification, a state allergen-training program for those in food service.

Supper and lunch clubs

The Enchanted Kitchen dining club currently offers two meal options per week: a Wednesday supper and Friday lunch. To order, new customers go to The Enchanted Kitchen website and fill out a profile, listing their basic contact information as well as explaining all food allergies if present. Current customers simply log on with their user name and password.

Each Sunday evening, Ely uploads a new a la carte menu. Supper club customers have until Monday night at 8 p.m. to place their orders for Wednesday. For those interested in the lunch club, customers have until Wednesday night at 8 p.m. to order for Friday. Ely tracks the orders as they come in, matching the menu with user profiles to identify any food allergy concerns. 

With eight years of cooking allergen-friendly meals in her home, Ely is well schooled in avoiding cross contamination and comfortable suggesting ingredient alternatives if necessary. All allergen-aware meals are cooked, packaged and put away before she cooks the remainder of her meals.

Customers pick up their supper orders on Wednesdays between 3:30 and 6 p.m. depending on which of the three pre-selected pick up locations they choose: the First Religious Society, the Ely home or the Carlisle Kids’ House. Pickup for the Friday lunch club is at the First Religious Society, but Ely also makes regular deliveries to Town Hall and throughout Carlisle Center. Carlisle School teachers and staff are also keeping her particularly busy and receive a large delivery each Friday as well.

Sandy Nash poses with her flower bouquet and dinner from The Enchanted Kitchen’s Pay It Forward Club (PIFC). Nash was nominated for a PIFC meal by students at the. Carlisle School to celebrate her birthday. (Courtesy Photo)

Paying it forward

Currently, The Pay if Forward Club provides dinners and lunches to community members who have been identified for a host of reasons to Ely by local churches, the Council on Aging or others. Meals are paid for by individual or group donations, spare change from lunches delivered to the Carlisle School or through funds raised by businesses advertising on her website. Lisa Hales of Keller Williams recently donated $500 to cover all Pay it Forward Club meals for the month of December in exchange for advertising. Helen Dearborn of the Concord Flower Shop also advertises on the website and in exchange donates up to ten flower bouquets each week. The bouquets are delivered with the meals.

Ely explains that she has a number of individuals in the community being taken care of by anonymous donors and groups. The donations range from providing a single meal to sponsoring 40 weeks of family-sized portions depending on the need. Ely also tries to recognize caretakers with her program. “I love working with [them],” she says. “If the caretakers aren’t eating right and keeping up their nutrition, how are they going to take care of the people they are supposed to be taking care of?”

A community service

Over the past several months, Ely has seen the community embrace The Pay it Forward Club. Families are sending meals to friends or neighbors going through tough times, or as Welcome to Carlisle gifts for new families. In return, families that have received meals have sent meals to others. “People are intrinsically good,” Ely explains. “People want to do good [and] we want to help people do more good.” 

Students at the Carlisle School are also getting involved. Not only are they actively nominating teachers and staff for Friday lunches, several students have also volunteered with Ely for their community service hours, washing dishes and helping to wrap meals. Ely adds that even though their community service program has ended, many still show up at the First Religious Society to help simply because it makes them feel good.

Ely is also paying careful attention to her elderly customers, creating smaller portion sizes and offering frozen soups that can be stored for future use. As the business and outreach program expands, Ely would like to start donating gift certificates for services that could be particularly beneficial for people who have gone through an illness. She hopes to provide those in need with opportunities for massage, yoga, Reiki or life coaching.

Future plans

While Ely has been managing the growth and development of the business on her own, that is about to change. In January her “lifelong best friend,” Laura O’Connor of Groton, will join her. O’Connor will help with behind the scenes tasks, but she will also bring baked goods to The Enchanted Kitchen, as an experienced baker comfortable with baking for people with a number of life-threatening food allergies. 

Ely is also working on adding another chef in the kitchen and is slowly ramping up hiring for next year. “Everything is flexible and moving right now,” she says, adding that she is working on expanding the menu to include vegetarian options and additional entrees while also cooking privately for families and parties.

Early 2015 will also be the launch of The Enchanted Kitchen Farm Stand. Ely hopes to provide seasonal offerings from her home garden, fresh eggs, homemade jam and other items. She is also busy in the kitchen making and freezing meals such as chicken pies and that well-loved Magic Soup that customers can purchase on non-supper club-nights.

Café proposal

Her latest idea is in a proposal she recently made to the First Religious Society to convert the basement level and former home of The Red Balloon Preschool into a café. While the church would still have access to the space for storage and classrooms, Ely put forward the idea to create a multi-generational space for the community to enjoy coffee, tea, fresh juice and smoothies, as well as a selection of food items such as baked goods, sandwiches and soups. 

“It’s an amazing little space,” says Ely of the facility, adding that she would like to keep the playful and relaxing nature of the room by incorporating couches, coffee tables, board games, puzzle tables, toys, and access to the fenced in playground area outside for parents with toddlers. “I want a place for all ages to come,” she explains. Existing classrooms could be used for meeting space for parent or senior groups or other clubs, while also allowing for access to food and WiFi. “The café is a natural progression,” she says of her vision.

For more information on The Enchanted Kitchen and the Pay It Forward Program, please go to:   ∆