Stuart Rowland, owner of Van Buren-based Stu’s Clean Cookin’, was a full-time mechanic when his CrossFit coach encouraged him to sell the food Rowland would often share.
The barbecue pitmaster said he’d researched nutrition and started to cook meals for himself as he worked to lose weight. He lost 94 pounds.
In 2016, Rowland started to prepare precooked meals from his kitchen and sold them for $5, pricing he’s continued to offer. He purchased a food trailer and started using a smoker when he outgrew his kitchen. By the time he was preparing 1,000 meals per week, he looked to hire his first employee. In early 2018, he purchased a gas station and converted it into a 3,600-square-foot kitchen. All the meals are prepared there and frozen before they are distributed to one of his six locations across Northwest Arkansas.
“People can have convenient, affordable, delicious food ready to go when they are,” Rowland said. “Three minutes in the microwave, and they’re ready to go.”
In April, he said he lost about 80% of his clientele. Business has started to return, and he’s selling more than 1,000 meals per day. However, sales have been seasonal. In January, he was selling between 20,000 and 25,000 meals weekly. The company can produce up to 5,000 meals per day.
“We’re busy,” he said. “Our main focus is getting customers to return. Our business model isn’t to get you on the first time, and then we hope you come back. It’s dazzle you on your first time, and then blow your mind by how cheap it is.”
The meals, many of which meet specifications for various diets, can be purchased online, and each store offers curbside pickup. Store hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Stores are in Bentonville, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Greenwood, Springdale and Van Buren. The company has almost 40 employees.