Elke and Brian Podlasek have had their plates full for 20 years, running a busy restaurant on Sanibel Island, the Island Cow. The popular joint — it’s a “crazy, Key Westy-kind of place,” says Brian Podlasek — does more that $6 million in revenue a year.
In those 20 years, through hurricanes, red tide and more, one constant issue the owners have grappled with is as Florida as sunshine: bugs. On Sanibel, they run the gamut, including mosquitos, fleas, ticks and no-see-ums. That last one is the obvious term for bugs from the Ceratopogonidae family, also called biting midges. “The bug situation out here is brutal,” Brian Podlasek tells Coffee Talk. “If you stay outside (without protection) for too long, you are dead.”
With that need on the forefront, the Podlaseks went into inventor mode, creating a natural bug spray to protect against all the pests. Called Bodyguard, it uses natural oils, including a proprietary mix of coconut, mineral, neem, lemongrass and jojoba oils. There are no chemicals. “The key to all this is the neem oil, says Podlasek, exalting the properties of the naturally occurring pesticide taken from seeds from the neem tree. “We found something that really works.”
The couple had been thinking about the bug issue for years, and on fishing and vacation trips to Barbados and other locales, they began to experiment with formulas. That was the biggest challenge at first, finding the right mix. “You have to be super-careful,” Podlasek says. “We aren’t selling ice cream.”
The Podlaseks introduced Bodyguard at Island Cow, and customers loved it. That prompted the couple to pursue a wholesale and retail business for the spray. A pet-friendly product, they have seen some success, selling to cattle farmers, RV parks and more.
Bodyguard has been more of a labor of love than a profit machine for the couple, says Brian Podlasek, adding they sell about 25 cases a week. They have four employees, and Bodyguard is sold at more than 70 locations in the region and several nationally, a mix of retail and wholesale.
One of Podlasek's proudest moments was when he recently went into Bailey’s General Store, the community hub of Sanibel, and saw Bodyguard on the shelves. “That’s as gratifying," Podlasek says, "as anything else we’ve done with this."