Plant-based foods chef planning for expansion

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 1,464 views 

Little Rock chef Alicia Watson recently won a pitch competition in Springdale and plans to use the winnings to expand her business to Northwest Arkansas.

The wins are building for Alicia Watson, chef and owner of Little Rock-based culinary wellness company Vito and Vera.

She said her most recent win on Food Network TV show “Big Restaurant Bet” won’t change her plans to invest winnings to expand her plant-based prepared meals business across the state, including Northwest Arkansas.

Watson won $5,000 in a pitch competition after completing business development program Cureate Courses in Northwest Arkansas. The free, eight-week program for food and beverage entrepreneurs is hosted by business consultant Cureate and FORGE Inc., a revolving community loan fund that’s based in Huntsville. Watson was one of eight women business owners who completed the program this spring.

“While it took a lot of time, I experienced such growth as a person and as a business owner to be able to articulate my dreams in a way that makes sense,” she said.

The program ended with the pitch competition hosted at The Jones Center in Springdale. Asked why she won, Watson said because of proof of concept in Little Rock, that she’s saturated the market there with meals-to-go and her plans to partner with the University of Arkansas to develop a frozen-food line. That would allow the company to offer frozen plant-based meals statewide.

Watson, an occupational therapist, launched her food business shortly before the pandemic started. She has 24 years of experience in the home health field, and during that time, she became aware of the concept that food is medicine and how it can change health outcomes. She attended culinary school in Little Rock and became a plant-based chef, looking to change health outcomes by incorporating more fruit and vegetables into people’s diets.

She noted she doesn’t have a timeline on the expansion to Northwest Arkansas but has received a lot of area interest in healthy outcomes. Watson said she’s seeking investors to expand her business across the state.

Vito and Vera has two employees, including sous chef Darian Patton, and multiple contract workers.