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Business Observer Friday, May 22, 2015 7 years ago

Food for thought

Trying new things at a rapid pace fuels Greg Gentile's entrepreneurial success. Says Gentile: 'I'm all about change.'
by: Beth Luberecki Contributing Writer

Greg Gentile was tired of eating badly. Recently divorced and not a fan of cooking, he found himself eating out a lot, relying on the convenience of a meal made by someone else.

“I never had a weight problem, but whatever I would order, I would eat,” he says. “If I ordered a pizza, I would eat basically the whole pizza.”

Watching food documentaries got him thinking. “I really wanted to eat better,” says Gentile. “I wished there was a place where I could buy meals that were portioned so I wouldn't overeat and made with really good ingredients. And I thought I can't be the only one who would want this convenience.”

He's not. The business that sprang from that idea in 2013, Get Fit Fuel, has quickly grown to three Sarasota-area locations. Get Fit Fuel sells healthy, single-serving, microwaveable meals along with pressed juices and smoothies. And there's potential for more.

“As long as sales are going up from the previous week, then I'm always going in the right direction,” says Gentile. “And things are definitely going up.”

Sales in March 2015, for example, were up 27% over March 2014. Gentile declined to provide specific sales figures.

This isn't Gentile's first foray into the food business. He worked at his parents' north Manatee County fruit stand in his 20s. That led him into the wholesale realm and the opening of his own food-service company, Sarasota-based Chef's Choice, which supplies a couple hundred local restaurants, country clubs, and other businesses with fresh produce and dairy each day.

The success and stability of Chef's Choice helped Gentile open Get Fit Fuel in 2013. “Oh, I borrowed from Chef's Choice to pay for it,” he says with a laugh. “What has saved me since I opened is that I own my own produce company. I save a lot of money there.”

Gentile takes advantage of the way the two businesses can work together. His six refrigerated Chef's Choice trucks, for example, also help deliver and distribute food among the three Get Fit Fuel stores.

Gentile further kept costs down when he opened the first location on Siesta Drive by tackling most of the work himself, whether installing toilets or preparing for inspections. When he saw strong interest coming from Lakewood Ranch, he opened a second store. He wasn't looking for a third site. But when a prime downtown Sarasota spot on U.S. 301 became available, he snatched it up.

That kind of nimbleness is a hallmark of his business style. “I really fly by the seat of my pants,” he admits. “I'm all about change. I'm continually going through the suggestion box and seeing great ideas.”

One recent example: When a customer recently suggested selling juice shots, Gentile jumped on the idea, and will introduce the shots this month.

More change comes from frequent menu alterations. Items, which span breakfast, lunch and dinner, are made with ingredients like hormone- and antibiotic-free meat and house-made condiments like mayonnaise and ketchup. There are vegetarian, raw, and gluten-free choices among the entrees and side dishes. Meals nearing the end of their shelf life get donated to the Salvation Army every day.

Most items cost less than $10. Gentile says he keeps the prices low to build volume, not sales-per-ticket. “If I raise my prices 10%, I would lose some customers,” he says.

Gentile is considering expansion, both in Florida, to Bradenton and Orlando, and outside the state, possibly to New York City. Franchising isn't something he's considering now, but he does hope to attract some outside investors, someone with financial resources who'd allow the company to grow faster than it already is.

“I'm just going to keep going the way I am,” he says. “On my own, I could do one or two new stores every year without a problem. If someone comes along, great. But if not, I'm not really worried about it.”

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