At 7 a.m. on a Monday morning, the Commerce Street parking lot of the RK Group looked like it did any other day of the week. By 7 p.m. that evening, the space had completely transformed into a base camp capable of providing food, sanitation, and health services for thousands.

For 70 years, the catering arm of the RK Group has been feeding and serving crowds at galas, weddings, sporting events, and civic and social gatherings. A privately held leader in the culinary, events, and hospitality industries with offices in Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, and Phoenix, the RK Group produces more than 4,000 events a year, operating at some of the nation’s most distinguished event centers and hotel kitchens.

So it’s no surprise that when professional food and meal preparation is needed to feed the hungry masses following natural disasters and other crisis situations, RK is there, too.

In March, the company announced the creation of RK Emergency Management Support (RK EMS) and, earlier this week, introduced the centerpiece of that business: The Beast.

As a longtime catering company, RK has been called upon to aid a Federal Emergency Management Agency subcontractor following disasters and the Texas Department of Transportation to support the State’s emergency response services team. And recently, RK provided emergency food services to 3,000 people at a base camp on the Texas-Mexico border, serving more than 1 million meals during the four months they were on site.

“It has been a natural extension of our integrated event services to deploy existing assets and expertise to serve a variety of contingency events, ranging from scalable tenting and mobile refrigeration solutions to industrial scale field kitchens and hospitality services,” RK Group SVP Ken Holtzinger stated in the news release.

In addition to Rosemary’s Catering for which RK Group is best known, the RK umbrella includes Illusions Tents, Rentals & Designs; Flair Floral; Circa DMC; RK Sports Hospitality; The RKD Studio, and its branded restaurants.

The mission of RK EMS is to field and operate provisional life support facilities that sustain relocated and displaced people, as well as first responders and recovery specialists following natural disasters and civil disruptions. RK EMS specializes in temporary food services, structures, and facility support services, providing sustenance and shelter operations for community recovery, and for military readiness maneuvers and training.

The Beast was unveiled at a “Demo Days” event in the RK parking lot and attended by oil and gas executives, representatives from CPS Energy and Congressman Will Hurd’s office, and public safety officials attending the 2017 Texas Emergency Management Conference at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center nearby.

The Beast is the nickname the company has given to a 57-foot-long mobile kitchen capable of preparing and serving 10,000 meals every three hours. Custom-built for RK by locally-owned Cruising Kitchens, it contains all the cooking and production, cold storage, food prep, and sanitation equipment needed to deliver full industrial kitchen capabilities virtually anywhere within 48 hours.

At the helm as general manager of RK EMS is a third-generation member of the Kowalski family, Jennifer K. Heinz. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Heinz worked with the Susan G. Komen Foundation in event production before joining The RK Group. She is the granddaughter of the company’s founder, Rosemary Kowalski.

“Today is about showing off the assets to potential clients – oil and gas companies, counties, fire departments as well as companies that need use of these assets when they aren’t used for disasters,” Heinz said. “They can be deployed for rebuilding a kitchen when they need food service or for sleeping quarters on construction sites. There are many different uses, so we just wanted to show the community what our services are going to offer.

“It’s available if a crisis happens. If something else happens and we need to assist, we have other soft-side capabilities that we put up in a matter of 24 hours or less.”

Heinz would not disclose the purchase price of the imposing black-and-chrome Beast, except to say they have invested “significant capital.” But The Beast wasn’t the only heavyweight from the RK fleet on the lot this week. They also showed off the company’s 32-foot dish-washing trailer – capable of cleaning more than 14,000 dishes an hour – several mobile power generators, plus “luxury” restroom and shower trailers.

As a partner to RK EMS, the WaterFleet company also showcased its paired set of water and water reclaiming rigs that can pull water from any source and provide 6,000 people a day with clean, potable water for cooking, drinking, and showers. WaterFleet, a San Antonio company, primarily serves temporary housing units at oil fields.

Water Fleet services offer both reclaiming wasted water and purifying drinking water found in natural bodies of water.
Water Fleet services offer both reclaiming wasted water and purifying drinking water found in natural bodies of water. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Another partner, BCFS Health and Human Services Emergency Management Division, installed its high-tech command centers, a 100-foot-high communications tower, and mobile medical units.

Led by President and CEO Kevin Dinnin, BCFS has deployed around the world in support of response teams at crises like the Bastrop forest fires in 2011, where they provided a command center for shelter operations, the Wedgewood apartment fires in 2014, and in New York on 9/11.

“We are a force multiplier,” Dinnin said, explaining that BCFS employs experts who once worked for state emergency agencies and the military.

Peter Conner serves as senior advisor to RK EMS, lending his experience in managing secure communications, information technology, cyber security, and bio-containment laboratories.

“RK got pulled into this business,” Conner said, citing hurricanes Katrina and Rita as examples.

“As a result of that, (because) they had started buying more assets to support big corporate clients for events, then people looked around and said, ‘Okay, we have a big incident, then who can handle that kind of volume with the cleanliness and the quality,’ and RK comes to mind.”

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.