Start-up roundup: Ultimate Foods offers healthy in a hurry

Healthy and fast aren’t two words that commonly fit together when describing food. The guys at Ultimate Foods are looking to change that.

Nick Harmeier and Rick McCracken founded the healthy fast food company a year ago and have enjoyed robust growth that has them eyeing expansion.

“We want to blow this thing out of the water,” Harmeier said. “We think the concept is so cool anyway, but then you get a chance to really change someone’s life.”

The concept is comfort food with a healthy twist: Chicken parmesan, for example, breaded with almond meal and served with brown rice pasta noodles; barbecue chicken served with green beans and mashed sweet potatoes; and beef tenderloin with spinach, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and carrots.

Ultimate Foods currently operates a kitchen and storefront in Cordova, at 8100 Macon Station, as well as a pop-up shop Downtown at 1 N. Main St.

The partners are looking to aggressively expand in the Memphis market, adding at least three more stores. The Ultimate Foods Cordova kitchen will be the main manufacturing hub to feed other locations.

McCracken and Harmeier also want to add locations in Nashville and Little Rock in the near future, but they aren’t in a hurry.
“Before we expand too much, we want to make sure we have an extremely tight blueprint,” he said.

That strategy fits the mold the business was built on. When they first got started, Harmeier and McCracken thought they wanted a storefront, but weren’t willing to take on any debt. The catering kitchen at Whitton Farms Cannery provided the perfect backdrop for Ultimate Foods’ first home.

They set the company up online, and offered delivery Monday through Friday. Even with physical locations in place now, they still offer delivery and don’t plan to stop.

“Delivery has been such a key to our success that I think we’d have a riot on our hands if we said we’d stop delivering,” he said.

Nutrition may be the company’s hallmark, but affordability is a prerequisite, too.

The business aims to have the cost of a meal roughly equal to one at Chick-Fil-A. Weekly plans range from $125 to $152.50, and can provide virtually every bite of food needed in a day, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.

Memphis’ reputation as an unhealthy city is the reason McCracken and Harmeier believed the business could thrive here.

“I don’t care who you are: Everybody wants to feel good and look good,” Harmeier said. “People can work out all day long but if they’re eating incorrectly, they’re not going to see results. We can show them the service and get the results they want.”
Ultimate Foods’ five-day meals plans aim for a daily average of 40% protein, 40% carbohydrate and 20% fat. About 90 percent of the meals are gluten free. Carbohydrates are chosen based on the Glycemic Index. Daily caloric intake for a three-meal and snack plan averages 1,500 to 1,850, depending on the chosen size.

Harmeier said the response has been outstanding. The business has spent very little money on marketing, getting about 90 percent of its business through word-of-mouth referrals. Harmeier and McCracken have “saved every penny” and still operate Ultimate Foods debt free.

Harmeier said Ultimate Foods customers are seeing results in the form of weight loss, but weight loss isn’t the only motivation for eating healthy.

“Some people eat it to lose weight, and some people just want to know what they’re putting in their body,” he said. “If you had a Ferrari, would you put the cheap gas in it or most expensive? Why would you treat your body less than that?”

Harmeier has always had a knack for entertaining and serving. His talent, coupled with McCracken’s passion for food and fitness, make the friends a good team. And the journey has been gratifying, so far.

“It’s a cool thing to be able to do something you enjoy and be able to do something that can also change someone’s life,” he said. “So it’s a pretty rewarding job for Rick and me.”

By Jane A. Donahoe
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