What if you could eat a healthy variety of meals and snacks all week without ever cooking, doing dishes, or even leaving home?
That's the concept behind Ultimate Foods, launched six months ago by Nick Harmeier and Rick McCracken.
The pair offers several weekly 20- and 25-meal plans delivered each Monday, ranging from $125 to $172.50. They provide small, medium, and large plans with an average of 1,850 calories per day for the middle size. The average daily breakdown includes 40 percent protein, 40 percent low-Glycemic carbs, and 20 percent fat.
It matches the convenience of fast food with solid nutritional values and creative home-cooked options.
"People are absolutely dependent on us," McCracken says. "Once you get accustomed to us, you get spoiled."
McCracken, who has a cooking background, oversees several qualified chefs working out of Whitton Farms Cannery. Every dish comes in a plastic black tray, clearly labeled with nutritional information, a "best by" date, and microwave instructions.
Ultimate Foods now also offers meals and snacks à la carte at 1 N. Main St. in Memphis. "Happy Meals That Won't Supersize You," a sign on the glass storefront window says. The small corner shop is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The weekly plans include items like Good Morning Memphis (ground turkey, brown rice, egg whites, fat-free cheese, tomatoes, cilantro, jalapenos, and salsa), Rise And Grind (egg whites, turkey sausage links, and red potatoes), and Kickin' Jerk Chicken (sliced chicken breast, brown rice, pineapples, mandarin oranges, red pepper, and jerk sauce).
The pair discussed the idea for Ultimate Foods for a while, and one day McCracken called Harmeier with news: He'd put in two months' notice as a manager at a sit-down burger joint.
"What are you doing?" Harmeier says, recalling his reaction in mock anger.
Just days later, Harmeier, inspired by a Steve Jobs quote he happened upon on his smartphone, quit his job in business development.
- Justin Fox Burks
With no outside investors, the two poured every penny of savings they had into the new venture. They bought $500 worth of food the first week and sold it for $800, and business has accelerated since. They currently are working to standardize their operations to open up multiple small storefronts across Memphis, and they hope to expand even further one day.
"Don't get me wrong, we want to be millionaires," Harmeier says. "But this is more or less a passion."
1 N. Main St. (654-6527)
While attending college in New York, Kelcie Allen became accustomed to eating at Chop't, a quick-and-easy salad franchise.
Back in Memphis, she longed for a similar option, leading her to create Lettuce Eat, set to open in Germantown by the end of March.
"Sometimes it's hard to make the right choice when you have to go to the store and buy everything. It's easier just to run through Chick-fil-A than to make something healthy for yourself," Allen says. "I got used to it in New York, so when I got home, I was like, 'Oh, man. What am I going to do?'"
Each choice on the simple 10-item menu comes in a salad or a wrap, with prices ranging from about $7 to $10.
"My favorite's the Southwestern," Allen says. "It's got a spicy chipotle ranch, avocado, corn, romaine lettuce, pepper jack cheese, and fried onions. It's really good."
Lettuce Eat also will offer a "build your own" wrap or salad for $6.99, including a choice of lettuce and four basic toppings. There are 57 ingredients, including six kinds of greens, produce, fruits, proteins, cheese, nuts, and "crunchies" like Chinese noodles, pita chips, and tortilla strips. All the dressings will be homemade.
The Lettuce Eat location is surrounded by offices, and Allen hopes to offer an alternative to fast food for business people on the go.
"We're definitely going to wait and see how this one does before we sign any leases, but we'd like to open five to 10 in the next five years," Allen says. "A couple more in Memphis, and then maybe Oxford or places like that."