Restaurants took a major hit in 2020 when local shutdowns, because of the coronavirus, forced closures. Some establishments were able to slowly get into the home delivery and takeout game, but others, like Tampa-based Fitlife Foods, were ready and waiting.
The healthy, premade food business—while it has 12 brick-and-mortar locations—was primed to continue business as people were forced to stay home. It opened its first location in 2011, making February the company’s 10th anniversary.
Yes, sales decreased, as was to be expected, but during the pandemic, no one at the company lost their jobs.
“We’ve always been built on takeout and we’ve always been built on prepared meals to go,” says David Osterweil, CEO of Fitlife Foods.
Osterweil has been in the restaurant business for more than 20 years, starting as one of the first interns at Outback Steakhouse and becoming director of business development, a position he held for several years.
He got the idea for starting Fitlife after bringing his frozen “healthy” meals to work and being left unimpressed.
“The concept, from origination, was always about problem-solving for people’s really busy work weeks,” he says. “If I could afford to hire a personal chef, this is what I would want them cooking for me.”
Somewhere around 2015, when UberEats was becoming the future of food delivery, Fitlife adapted and began plans to start its weekly delivery service.
“It’s an amazing feeling when you have 10 meals delivered at once that you’re putting in your fridge,” Osterweil says. “You’ve just eliminated so much stress in your life.”
After a long summer and fall, the company announced a new executive chef as it looked forward to the new year.
A Tampa native, Chris Austin, was named executive chef in December. A James Beard scholarship recipient from the California Culinary Academy, in San Francisco, both Osterweil and Penny Primus, director of product marketing, shared excitement over the plans Austin has for the brand.
One item that was brought up numerous times was the BBQ Beef and Mac ’n’ Cheese meal.
“I work directly with the chef and I’m constantly looking at what the ingredients are,” Primus says. “It’s all about balanced meals that are going to make you feel amazing, no matter what you’re doing or what your goals are in your life.”
The future of Fitlife looks bright. With a new chef and plans for expansion, the brand has big plans.
“First of all, I love his energy,” Osterweil says. “You can sense that he loves food and it shows itself in the product … he’s putting genuine love in it.”
The company also committed to helping the community during the pandemic. It partnered with Feeding Tampa Bay and helped get food to the elderly, first responders and hospitals.
“We knew, as a company, that one of our missions was to elevate the way you feel,” Primus says. “We tried to figure out what we could do for the community.”
Osterweil adds that they allocated meals, each week, to help provide meals to frontline workers.
During the holiday season, Fitlife Foods also donated nearly 450 meals to Feeding Tampa Bay.
“It just makes us feel good that we can do our part and be there for the community,” Osterweil says.
As for expansion, the company plans on opening its first location outside of Florida, one more in the state of Florida and opening up its home delivery service to 30 other states.
Also, its planning to launch a new program called Project You, a personalized wellness program that seeks to be a complimentary service to its healthy meals.
Osterweil says what his brand does differently is it provides a lifestyle change versus a “fad diet.”
“It shouldn’t be about depriving yourself of one thing or going down a wormhole too far,” he says. “It should be about balanced portion sizes and fresh, delicious, food all of the time.”
The company has sustained, and grown, while taking a slow and steady approach.
“My approach to growing this business, over the last 10 years, has always been a very patient process for growth,” Osterweil says. “Keep moving and keep pressing forward. Grab the Gatorade and press on.” ♦