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San Diego
Thursday, May 30, 2024

Catering to the Nation’s Food Services Needs

SMALL BUSINESS: Rowe Solutions Feeds Border Patrol, CalFire

Frank Rowe says that there are times when the good life he has found in San Diego feels “unreal.”

Frank Rowe
Founder and Owner
Rowe Solutions Inc.

“Sometimes I’m at a loss for words,” Rowe said. “I remember what the days were like being hungry on a normal basis. I’m just thankful, thankful for what I’m doing. I’m humbled by the experience, humbled by the fact that it didn’t have to go like this for me.”

Hailing originally from what he says “is one of the worst parts of Queens, N.Y.,” Rowe, a first-generation American, joined the U.S. Navy at 20 and stayed in San Diego after his nearly six years of service as an aviation electrician was over.

Ten years after he enlisted in the military as a means of escaping New York, Rowe is the successful founder and owner of four-year-old Rowe Solutions Inc., a full-service food and catering firm with 15 employees, revenues of $1.7 million – and some top-notch clients including U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the National Guard, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Rowe’s parents landed in Far Rockaway, Queens, N.Y., from Jamaica, and while he said he grew up as the middle child in a middle-class family, he grew up across the street from “the projects.”

“Being in such close proximity to that, that was my influence,” Rowe said. “It was the kind of place where the people who I grew up with would be training me to box one minute, and the next thing I knew, they were plotting to rob me.”

He said his first introduction to food service came via being a sous chef and dishwasher with his older brother during high school. The experience came in handy a decade later when, while attending school at the University of San Diego and becoming disenchanted with his engineering education, he asked a cousin who was living in San Diego for some guidance.

That cousin, Geoffrey Cole, is a Navy veteran with a culinary background who has a restaurant/nightclub downtown and also runs a food-service company that has nationwide government and military catering contracts.

Rowe said he helped out Cole with a loan, and in return for the financing assistance, asked him to “teach me the ropes so I can do government contracts on my own.”

Rowe worked for Cole part-time while still attending USD. He had a young son that he would take to school in the morning, then he would attend classes, work at Cole’s East County office, pick his son up from school and then do his homework.

“Midway through the fall semester I recognized that taking on all of this was tough,” Rowe said. “I had gotten my associate degree at (San Diego) City College while I was in the military. But seeing all the opportunities while I was working with my cousin, I believed that if I put my full energy into this, I could make something work.”

After three months on his own, he got his first government contract, with CalFire, for three meals a day, five days a week, for 60 people – for a year.

“I had no money, no staff, nothing in place,” Rowe recalled. “It was right before the pandemic. I sold all the gold I had. I cashed in all my reward points on my credit cards. I begged anyone who would listen for a loan. I pulled a rabbit out of the hat, and I made it work.”

He moved out of where he was living and was “couch surfing” for a time. He got the funding, found lines of credit and built the company’s infrastructure by putting “the right people in place.”

He found that his military background came in handy at that time. “They purposely do not help you,” Rowe said. “They put you in position to see if you sink or swim – literally and figuratively. That mindset allowed me to be resourceful and figure things out. It taught me resilience, consistency, being systematic and never making the same mistake twice.”

But in the end, the contract, which Rowe said was worth half a million dollars, fell through. Still, the company had secured its roots moving forward heading into 2020. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Rowe said the company was able to pivot to meal prep, do contactless service and “it ended up being a blessing in disguise.”

His government work now a regular thing, Rowe said he is looking to move into the private sector as well. He said he is also opening up two “ghost kitchens,” one called Poke Party, the other Mexelente.

“The goal is to become a nationwide food service and be a household name, so I can leave a legacy for my family,” he said. n


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