Healthy Grubstake: Smart meals company blossoms in Valley

January 7, 2019

HARLINGEN — When you’re in the heart of the heart of Tex-Mex country, and you want to start up a new food company, taking a contrarian position on cuisine might seem a little risky.

You toss out the barbacoa, the tacos, the charro beans and fajitas — and hopefully the obesity-related health problems nutritionists say are associated with them — and replace it with gluten-free, keto-friendly, low-carb entrees as part of a weight-loss program or just a way to eat healthy.

Next thing you know, you’re expanding to new locations.

“What really got me going was that in the Valley I started to look at how many gyms we have,” said Carlos Hernandez, owner and co-founder with his wife, Francesca, of Beauty and Beast Cuisine. “There are a lot of gyms but there wasn’t anything that was necessarily healthy when it came to food.

“Once I met my wife and she started cooking for me, and I realized how frickin’ delicious her food was, and I was a fitness trainer at the time, so I started selling out of our apartment and we went from making 500 meals a week to 2,000 to 10,000 to 25,000.”

The apartment was in Donna, and then a store and kitchen was opened in Edinburg, along with a retail location in McAllen.

Now Beauty and Beast Cuisine is open in downtown Harlingen and plans another grand opening at a Brownsville spot on Feb. 1.

“Everything you see around here is nothing but fast food, processed sugars, processed carbs — everything that’s unhealthy for you — and we decided to take that right out of the way,” said Miguel Leon, manager of the Harlingen location at 214 W. Jackson St.

Leon was a traditional chef earlier here in the Valley, rustling up the usual Tex-Mex menu.

“Mine was just regular plain meat, rice, veggies — that was it,” he said. “So when I came across Beauty and Beast Cuisine, it was a whole life-changer for me. I didn’t know you could actually provide such nutritional food with such great taste.”

The company’s kitchen in Edinburg provides a stream of entrees to its locations in the Valley, and is overseen by Francesca, a nutritionist and chef who brings the “beauty” side to the company name.

Then the microwavable meals are delivered twice-weekly to Harlingen and customers either pick them up or they can opt for delivery service. Entrees can be purchased separately without a weekly or monthly plan by just walking into the store and picking them up, Leon said.

“You can just come in and get some lunch and be good to go,” Leon said. “You just go ahead and heat it up for a minute and 30 seconds to a minute-45, and then you can just go ahead and consume it and throw away the dish and you’re good to go.”

Or you can order meals for an entire work week of five days, or on a monthly plan, too. A three-meals-per-day plan for five days a week is $115.

“For a week, if you’re looking just for something for lunch, you could be looking at about 35 bucks, just for lunch itself,” Leon said. “If you are looking for a lunch and dinner type of portion, then of course we would give you the 10 meals for $70. Those are the ones that sell the most because a lot of people after they get out of work they’re exhausted and the last thing they want to do is be in the kitchen, right?”

Entrees are low-carb or keto-friendly and consist of dishes like sesame ginger chicken, beef patty with bacon and creamy verde poblano sauce, pollo con calabaza, Greek turkey bowl and Greek potato salad and Wild West chicken with elote salad and chunky mashed potatoes.

“We have a menu that changes weekly so you don’t get bored,” Hernandez said.

While customers can customize their meal plans, Hernandez said there is an up-charge for this.

“But for the most part, people just order our meals simply because they’re healthy, they’re good for you. Nowadays when people think weight loss or getting healthy, they think creams, surgery, pills, shakes, but they don’t think food anymore.

“What we’re trying to do is bring food back and we’ve been able to do it through our plans, through our programs, which are very effective,” he said.

In addition to being low-carb and gluten-free, the entrees offered by B&B Cuisine also are diabetic-friendly and they have a wide range of doughnuts which tend to be healthier than the alternatives.

“For example, our protein doughnuts,” Hernandez said. “It’s a gluten-free doughnut and it won Best Doughnut of the Year this year. We beat Shipley’s, which is incredible, because the idea of a 70-calorie doughnut beating a 400-calorie doughnut is insane. So it gives you an idea that it tastes really good.”

Leon has been working with B&B Cuisine for a year.

He said there are more than 130 employees company-wide these days, mostly working at the company kitchen in Edinburg, which is an impressive fact given the firm’s modest start in a Donna apartment.

His Harlingen location opened a few months ago, he said, and business is booming.

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