Dennis and Donna, Free Steak

In mid-2011 Walmart decided the meat division of their retail grocery business needed to be better.  They made two important decisions.

One decision was to improve the quality of the beef in the stores.  They decided to do away with additives and preservatives, and promote their new policy by offering a money-back guarantee and free samples.

They had a mobile food concession stand designed and built to travel the country.  At a different Walmart six days of every week, rib-eye steaks would go on the grill, and juicy samples would be given to the public.

The stand was, their second-best decision.

The really smart decision they made was to hire Dennis and Donna Killian to be their chef/evangelists.  Two years ago Dennis and Donna left Othello, WA, retired from their popcorn business (–which continues to support many family members—to work as missionaries at a temple in Illinois.  Then they were recruited by Walmart.

These folks are a couple of years shy of 80 and have a work ethic I haven’t seen since I moved from my father’s house.  Also similar is their vitality, vivacity, and charm.  They believe if you stop working, you shrivel and die.

They have twelve children, six girls and six boys, and they still count the one they lost in childbirth over fifty years ago.  They have fifty grandchildren.

Their Walmart gig started at Bentonville, Arkansas ( in October. They are scheduled to be in Florida until the end of March, when they will curve around the panhandle toward Texas.  They’ll be at it a year, after which Walmart will review the program.

Every day Dennis cooks about 150 rib-eye steaks on the grill. 

With barbecue fork in one hand and meat thermometer in the other, he cooks them rare, medium, and well done and passes them in to Donna who cubes them and sets them out for people to sample.  After she’s taken care of the crowd, she looks toward people walking by and invites them to her window

As the son of a butcher, I grew up eating the leftovers from the store. By the time I left for college I consumed a lifetime supply of superb meat.  I mention this only for credibility of the next statement.

I give Walmart an A for the steaks, Dennis an A for the grilling, and Donna an A for charm and marketing.

If you order popcorn on line, tell them AL sent you.

20 Responses to Dennis and Donna, Free Steak

  1. michael says:

    Al, you’d never give us a bum steer.

  2. Dave L says:

    Walmart struggles with reputation on the west coast but elsewhere they win the election it seems. Sure glad they went to beef without additives, might be we’ll see some fish and poultry that are only fish and poultry someday. I get pretty tired of Monsanto on the menu.

    If these guys don’t increase beef sales at the blue and yellow, my name is not Ferdinand.

  3. karen wittgraf says:

    I am not a fan of WalMart (especially the treatment of their employees) but have to say, these people seem amazing and look like they’re enjoying life. Were they involved in evangalism as missionaries or what? Seems strange that connection with WalMart- but I’m cynical about almost everything.
    Enjoy the free steak, Al…..and enjoy that wonderful sunshine in Florida. Minnesota is cold, ice coated and dull right now. I’m aching to get away.

  4. Colleen Rae says:

    I also, like Karen, am not a fan of Walmart because of how they treat their employees. Nor do I eat meat so I rarely (can’t say never) shop at Walmart. But, having said that, I commend them on their creativity in marketing and your enthusiam in writing about them. The couple, Dennis and Donna do look like they are enjoying life to the hilt. For Walmart’s decision to have a traveling stand, and for using this couple, they should get a triple A.

  5. David Bauer says:

    The beef appears to be choice quality, and they seem to be happy in their work. Those Wal-Mart shoppers are getting a good deal. Now these are the kind of “Greeters” we need more of. I’d hit the stand for lunch and fellowship if they were set up near me.

    On the other hand, it’s long leap to make from the popcorn pan to the BBQ grill! Preparing and grilling 150 rib eyes each day seems like a daunting task to me — not sure that I could face the day knowing that I was facing a pile of red rib eye. It must be a labor of love for them.

  6. David Pierce says:

    I am troubled by the negative comments about Walmart. I am a supporter of this Company. We have traveled extensively throughout the United States and have stopped at many of this companies stores and I always ask employees about their treatment and happiness regarding their positions, 99% positive. This is not to say that mistreatment did not occur in the past but I feel they are an excellent employer and provide employment opportunities to many that many other firms would never consider.

    • allevenson says:


      Others may jump in here. My impression is that WM’s “employee treatment” reputation comes from paying minimum wages. In my travels I’ve met many people who would be happy to be able to get a minimum wage job. OTOH, I notice many people working in WM are minorities, seniors, and even people with disabilities. I applaud that.

      I stop in WMs often because of their policy to welcome itinerant RVs. I think that is smart marketing. I make most of my purchases at WM because it is convenient since I am already there.

      I NW Arkansas, Sam Walton’s memory is revered.

      Many big, successful companies are criticized for not paying more or providing more employee benefits than they have to, (Amazon) or their overseas sourcing (Apple). Big visible companies are easy targets.

      Socially responsible, green companies don’t seem to make good new stories.

  7. MaryAnne says:

    Hi Al and followers,
    I.,too, was a nay sayer of WM until I became a half time RVer. My recent experience with this retailer has been very positive….even commented to the check out clerk last week about how much fun the employees in the Parker, AZ store have as they work together. Like U, Al, I have to respect their hiring folks of diverse natures and having folks throughout the store accessable for questions/directions. OK, gotta admit it….I especially like the “safe haven” parking space as I’m moving from one locale to another.

  8. ditto says:

    Al, Were the employees allowed to sample?? I somehow doubt it. Dennis

    • allevenson says:

      Since the stand was outside, I saw many employees sampling the steak–probably during shift change.

    • Scott Neal says:

      My name is Scott and I run the Meat & Seafood programs at Walmart. We not only allow employees to sample the steaks during these events we had a special demo in all the stores for our associates to enjoy the top quality Choice ribeyes free of charge.
      I want to personally thank Dennis and Donna for all their hard work.

  9. Karen Goucher says:

    WalMart is a place that becomes a safe, welcomed option when tired, hungry and
    spent from driving the long roads between destinations. For this, I am thankful.
    One can be grateful for this while still concerned for the people working at WalMart. I like to believe it is a big company that tries to improve. I know I shop there when in need of
    provisions and my husband walks the isles for exercise looking for deals….most of
    which we don’t usually need. We have come across many lovely people in the RV
    circles in the lots of WalMart. If they shut the doors to RVers….we would miss them.

  10. Elden says:

    Dennis and Donna are my parents, They are truly an inspiration. Though cooking 150 rib-eyes a day is atypical, my dad is a superb cook, and with family gatherings often getting into the dozens of people, cooking in large quantities was the norm rather than the exception. If Wal-mart really wanted a crowd they’d let him make a big pot of his chicken noodle soup with hand cut noodles every day, and a dozen loafs of his homemade bread.

  11. Dennis says:

    This is Dennis, Any one and everyone is welcome to the Brand Box for free samples. Stores have different policies it seems concerning the associates sampling the free demo stuff. Most if not all, allow them to do so when on their breaks. The response to our samples are 99.9 % positive. Nothing puts a smile on a face like a tender, juicy morsel of USDA Choice Steak. These steaks are wonderful and only one in five steaks pass the quality standard for the New and Improved Choice steaks that are now sold at Walmart.

  12. Necia Hale says:

    Dennis and Donna, when are you coming to the Tri-Cities to serve your wonderful meat? We miss you and would love to see you!

  13. Blake Bird says:

    Darn, i was in Florida last week, wish I had known, I would have stopped by 🙂

  14. Aron Simpson says:

    Dennis and Donna are remarkable people I have known most of my life. The cynical world of today tries to make us believe good people are rare. I’m certain the Killians would agree that where we come from good people a not so rare. I’m not sure why some people are critical of Walmart. I have never seen a mistreated employee. If the objection is wage or benefit based, no one has been forced to work there.

  15. Marla says:

    Donna makes a Fantastic Banana Cream Pie also!!!! They are great cooks, but better yet, they are wonderful People!!! We send our love, Marla

  16. lorraine simkins says:

    Interesting article!! I enjoyed seeing the two of you!!

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