By Pete Williams
SAFETY HARBOR – David Osterweil calls the cuisine “indulgently healthy.” With names like Citrus Salmon Salad, Patong Chicken, Havana Pulled Pork, and Ab Tight Tenderloin, it’s clear Fitlife Foods has found the unlikely combination of tasty meals and food that’s actually good for you.
It’s not tofu-and-sprouts health food. Nor is it rich Outback Steakhouse fare, the type Osterweil once oversaw working in business development for the Tampa-based company.
“We take dishes that you might not initially think are great for you and make them healthy by getting creative with the ingredients,” says Osterweil, the founder of Fitlife Foods, which today opened its third location, on the border of Clearwater and Safety Harbor.
Since debuting a year ago in South Tampa and opening a second store recently in Carrollwood, Fitlife Foods has developed an avid following among busy professionals looking to eat healthy. The store offers fresh, pre-made meals in three sizes, produced by a staff headed by Andrew Ruga, who previously worked at the Canyon Ranch Spa in Arizona.
Meals come in three sizes: small (200 to 350 calories for around $6), medium (350-450 for about $8.50) and large (450-500 calories and up for around $10). There are options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with snacks. There’s also a 21-day weight-loss challenge that includes a meeting with a wellness coach who measures each client’s metabolic rate, body mass index, and other variables.
“Regardless of where you are, the idea is to offer people flexibility in their lives and really make it easy for them,” Osterweil says.
One of Fitlife’s more popular items is BBQ Beef with Mac ‘N Cheese. Chefs take carrots, onions, and grains to make the sauce and add a modest amount of cheddar. Salt and butter are used sparingly at Fitlife, added only for things like the “fitFudge brownie,” which is mostly plums.
Osterweil, a married father of two young children and an avid marathon runner, says he came up with the idea for Fitlife Foods after ripping recipes from magazines and never getting around to preparing them.
“You always mean to try them but after four months all you have is a stack of recipes,” Osterweil says. “Life tends to get in the way for most of us. I always wanted to start a company that meshed this interest I had in health and fitness with my passion for great-tasting food.”
Fitlife Foods, with its sleek green-and-black décor, looks like a cross between an upscale take-out restaurant and a modern health club. There are a few tables and microwave ovens for those who wish to eat in, though most grab and go from a well-stocked refrigerated display. There’s a room for wellness consultations and a display of bio sheets for local trainers affiliated with Fitlife Foods.
“I have a passion for what trainers do,” Osterweil says. “Their whole goal is to make people healthier, happy, successful, and more energetic and that’s similar to what our goals are.”
Meals are made at the South Tampa location and delivered daily to the other two stores. Osterweil plans to replicate the hub-and-spoke system in other cities and says he’s received interest from investors throughout the country, including the West Coast.
A Tampa native, Osterweil started with Outback Steakhouse as a waiter in Virginia as he worked on his MBA at America University. Back home, he climbed the Outback corporate ladder from intern to eventually become director of culinary strategy for Carrabba’s Italian Grill.
The newest Fitlife Foods location – on the southeast corner of McMullen-Booth and Enterprise Road, not far from Countryside Mall – has a rich Outback heritage. The second-oldest Bonefish Grill is located at the same intersection, along with the original Carmel Café and Wine Bar, a casual-dining Mediterranean restaurant Outback founder Chris Sullivan opened late in 2010.
“The biggest things I took away from the Outback experience were the notion of taking care of people and also the commitment to quality and having great flavors in food,” Osterweil said. “That was something I took to heart. The one thing that makes us a lot different is the notion of being indulgently healthy. There’s no reason you can’t eat things that are great tasting and great for you.”