A beauty and beast team is riding a wave of success of almost fairy tale proportions with a line of fresh, healthy meals and other related products. On a good week, Beauty & Beast Cuisine cooks and packages in the neighborhood of 27,000 meals in its Edinburg kitchen.
“It’s just been an explosion of opportunity,” said Carlos Hernandez, the beast in the partnership with his wife, Francesca, the beauty. “It is a lot of hard work. It’s been extremely exhausting.”
Hernandez, a personal fitness trainer, says building the company has been the most grueling endeavor of this life. It was even tougher than overcoming addiction. “I came back from addiction, I was gone from the age of about 28 until 30. I lost my way and I came back strong, but I came back broke. When I came back, I felt like I had a second opportunity, so there was no such thing as a bad day.”
As he worked to revive his career as a personal trainer, he met Francesca. She was a successful insurance agent with a love of cooking healthy food. She started cooking for him, and Hernandez loved it. “The food was delicious and it was healthy. It was 100 percent gluten free, it was low in sodium, even diabetic friendly.”
Hernandez convinced his wife to cook meals for his clients. Soon, she was preparing 300 meals a week from the couple’s small apartment. Francesca then quit her day job and the couple moved into a vacant restaurant in Donna about four years ago. As a result, the business quickly started to grow. “We went from making 300 plates a week to 1,000 plates a week,” Hernandez said. “We outgrew that kitchen in about six months and moved to Edinburg. Within one year, we grew six times. We went from making 1,000 to 5,000 to 10,000 – the most we have made is 27,000 meals in one week, which was insane.”
Today, Beauty & Beast Cuisine prepares meals and other products in a commercial kitchen in Edinburg. The company has 78 employees, with 28 of those working in the kitchen. It also operates retail outlets in Edinburg, McAllen, Harlingen and, most recently, Brownsville.
In the beginning, Francesca developed and prepared all the recipes. Now the company has an executive chef to oversee the cooking and packaging but Francesca continues to develop new recipes and products, which include offerings like protein-rich gluten-free pastries, granola and teas. “I call her a product guru because she has the ability to make some amazing things,” Hernandez said. “All the products we have at our stores, she created them. All the products we make are in-house, so we are a scratch kitchen.”
Beauty & Beast Cuisine has tapped into a fertile market in the Valley, where obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure are major health concerns. Hernandez said the real key to their success has been to create healthy food on a commercial scale that also tastes good. “To be successful here in the Valley, I felt that people love taste. If you don’t have taste, and it’s not a commercial taste, it’s not going to work.”
Customers can pick and choose from the variety of products at the retail outlets. They can also opt to sign up for monthly meal plans and pick up a week’s worth of meals at a time, which offers convenience and reduces the per-meal cost. Currently, Beauty & Beast Cuisine has some 60 different meal recipes and about 30 doughnut flavors. “It’s like a sea of meals, man,” Hernandez said. “The Valley needs options. I notice that people get bored really quickly, so it’s important to have that variety.”
During a presentation to University of Texas Rio Grande Valley business students, Hernandez said he was asked about his business plan. “I was broke, dude,” was his response. “It’s one thing if you have a vision and you can see it, but it’s much different for you to have to apply yourself and have the discipline to actually bring that vision to life. It’s just been an incredible journey.”
And that journey is still a work in progress, with an eye toward franchising outside the Valley. “This year we should be franchising, God willing,” Hernandez said. “We should be in San Antonio, I am hoping, within six to eight months. I feel we have a unique model. It’s a little different, so I think it will do really good in places like San Antonio and Austin.”