Biz Beat

Being clueless in the kitchen leads to food business

It was a bit disconcerting when I sat down with Billy Anderson last week and about the first thing he said was, “I don’t know how to cook. Really, I could burn water.”

At the time, we were sitting in the business Anderson owns, PFS (Prepped for Success) Meals. It would seem that being able to make food would be an important skill for someone selling it to others.

But Anderson’s ineptness in the kitchen is actually how he got started in the business. Anderson, a longtime fitness competitor, said he was making himself something to eat when his girlfriend, Naomi Tostado, asked, “What are you doing?”

“I was cooking a frozen chicken breast in a pan with nothing on it,” Anderson said with a laugh. “I always just thought of food as fuel.”

Tostado, however, showed him that healthy food also could be tasty. She started making meals for Anderson, and then other fitness-enthusiast friends asked her to do the same.

Anderson spotted an opportunity. Freshly prepared meals have become trendy in recent years – the success of online services such as Blue Apron and Plated attest to that – and Anderson found a few local places in the Bay Area, where he worked, and in Southern California. But nothing in Modesto, where he moved five years ago.

In January he opened PFS Meals downtown. He has put together a staff of 16 people, including culinary experts who more than make up for Anderson’s lack of cooking knowledge. He worked with them to develop meals that are healthy and tasty, a process that took a lot of time and experimentation.

PFS offers dishes ranging from salmon to zucchini pasta to protein, all of it made from whole foods, locally sourced when possible. And all the nutrition is carefully accounted.

“We don’t just estimate,” Anderson said. “We are very specific.” In other words, no guesstimating the calories in a dish based on the average size of a fillet or chicken breast.

Meals range from $6.50 to $12 (the latter for big-time fitness customers with specific needs and larger portions). They are available by both order and grab-and-go. What they aren’t is diet food.

“We don’t like that word,” Anderson said. “It’s a lifestyle. The idea is to make it food you want to eat.”

The downtown location was strategic, and Anderson said he’s happy with it. He gets area workers who order meal plans or stop in to pick up lunch. Among his customers have been Modesto police officers, which caused a bit of a stir the first time or two they came around.

“The (shopping center) security guards came to check and make sure everything was OK,” Anderson said.

Since opening, PFS has maxed out its capacity. “We are cooking in here all the time,” Anderson said. “In 24 hours, we are not cooking (for) maybe three.”

That has him looking to expand, into a full-service restaurant also planned downtown. If all goes as planned, the yet-to-be-named restaurant will open by the end of the year in the 10th Street location most recently occupied by El Jardin.

Anderson – who says he still can’t cook – plans gourmet but healthy meals for breakfast through dinner, with a few spins. “We will have alcohol,” he said. But it won’t be your typical gin joint. “Alcohol-infused fresh fruit drinks.”

How great does that sound? For the sake of journalistic integrity, of course, I will be there.

Find PFS Meals at 1801 H St., Modesto. Call 209-409-8221 or find the business on Facebook.

ELSEWHERE AROUND THE BUSINESS BEAT: Well, this is crushing news. But the good kind. Barley & Wine, which my colleague Pat Clark wrote about last year, is having its second annual Big Crush.

Admission is $99 to $199, depending on how much equipment you need. Attendees will get “locally grown wine grapes, the use of professional-grade equipment, and personal training to ensure that your personal vintage is of the highest quality,” according to a news release.

Classes will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 3, 4, 10 and 11 at 2307 Oakdale Road, No. 402, in Modesto. For more information, go to or