Monthly Archives: January 2012

Fitlife Foods: Great Tasting, Great for You

By Pete Williams

Fitlife Foods founder David Osterweil

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.”

Hear our Fitness Buff Show interview with David Osterweil HERE

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Hill Running in Florida? Here’s How

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Warrior Working to Stay Atop Mudpit

By Pete Williams

Warriors cross the finish line.

LAKE WALES – We’re not sure if obstacle mud runs will be a long-term part of the endurance sports world or just a fad that will disappear after a few years. But Warrior Dash, which kicked off the mud run season this weekend at the Triple Canopy Ranch, seems intent on being part of the category for however long it lasts.

It’s not that the 2012 version is more difficult than the 2011 rendition. Warrior Dash seems comfortable being the shorter, first-timer mud run, as opposed to longer endurance tests like Tough Mudder and Spartan Race. With Muddy Buddy announcing last week that it’s scaling back to eight events this year, in part because of the success of Warrior Dash, it seems Warrior Dash should command even more of the first-time mud run demographic.

This weekend’s Lake Wales attendance was 9,000 over two days, down from 13,000 last year. That’s in part to the countless mud runs that have sprung up in the last year in Florida, at least five of which left postcards on windshields while athletes raced. We’re guessing Warrior Dash will have an easier time maintaining and building its numbers in other parts of the country where there’s not a mud run nearly every weekend of the year.

Race-ending mudpit

With so many events, it’s difficult to come up with new challenges. We liked Warrior Dash’s main water obstacle, a 10-yard swim through chilly water to a floating obstacle, followed by another 10-yard swim back to shore. The distance was short enough for non-swimmers to doggie paddle – lifeguards were on hand just in case – but long enough for everyone to feel uncomfortable. Even with temperatures in the high 70s, it’s still January in Florida and the water is 60ish.

The Dash featured many of the obstacle run staples – walls, rope ladders, hurdles, fire jumps – along with running over old cars. Though it did have 100 yards of mud at one point that took some competitors down waist deep, it was easy for some just to run around the obstacle. Perhaps the biggest challenge was running about a mile through sand.

We missed last year’s Warrior Dash and wish we had done it before taking on Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, Savage Race, Highlander, and multiple Muddy Buddies. It’s one of the easiest among that group, though there are a lot of things Warrior Dash does best.

Warrior Dash was the first event to take the mud/party race formula national and they still do a great job with that, attracting perhaps the youngest crowd and probably selling the most beer. (Athletes get the first for free.) It definitely had the liveliest post-race atmosphere. It helps that the Chicago-based Red Frog Events, parent company of Warrior Dash, was founded in 2007 by then-27-year-old Joe Reynolds and the band of Millennial staffers on hand worked tirelessly. The Chicago Tribune recently rated Red Frog as the No.1 small company on its list of top workplaces and clearly these young adults love their work.

We liked the fuzzy Warrior hats all athletes received, perfect for Halloween should we ever go as Fred or Barney. Warrior Dash also has jumped aboard the soft T-shirt craze with some sharp, fitted, navy blue shirts with the Warrior Dash helmet logo on the front. (Hopefully this will inspire Tough Mudder and Spartan Race to give out something other than fairly generic unisex numbers with a concert shirt-like race calendar on the back.)

The back of the Warrior Dash shirt reads “World’s Largest Running Series.” Tough Mudder is taking aim at that title. For now, Warrior Dash, which caused obstacle mud racing to blow up a year ago, shows no signs of slowing down.

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Muddy Buddy Scales Back for 2012

By Pete Williams

Fewer mud pits in 2012

Muddy Buddy, the popular bike-and-run mud race series owned by Competitor Group, has scaled back to just eight events for 2012. After hosting two races in Florida in each of the last two years, and considering a third last year, Muddy Buddy will come no closer to Florida than Atlanta in 2012.

A new splash page on the Muddy Buddy Web site posted Tuesday promised a new Web site and 2012 registration for Jan. 30, along with “the biggest news in Muddy Buddy history.” The page also listed the eight cities that will host events in 2012.

“Choosing only eight events for 2012 was difficult,” Competitor Group said in a statement. “We weighed past participation, local support and event sponsor requests in making our decision. Cities that were on the schedule in 2011, but not in 2012 will be the first cities we reconsider as we hope to modestly expand the series in the coming years.”

A Competitor source said the decision was in response to races such as Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash, which routinely draw between 10,000 and 20,000 athletes per weekend. Muddy Buddy need attract only 2,000 to 3,000 per event to be successful, but even that became challenging over the last year with greater competition.

Orlando was the second-most popular stop on the Muddy Buddy circuit after Chicago. A return to Disney’s Wide World of Sports for 2012 was not a possibility, however, once Disney decided to no longer allow third-party endurance sports promoters to produce events on Disney property.

Competitor did consider locations elsewhere in Central Florida, including Pasco County just north of Tampa, but “there were no guarantees those venues would be as strong,” the source said. Another strike against Florida is that Columbia Sportswear, the title sponsor of the series, does not have many retail outlets in the Sunshine State.

Muddy Buddy staged races for years in seven or eight cities, including Orlando, before expanding to 13 for 2009 and 18 in 2010 before dialing it back to 16 last year. The circuit included a late November, season-ending stop at Zoo Miami in each of the last two years.

Back to Florida in 2013?

Attendance at the Disney event, held Mother’s Day weekend before moving to early April in 2011, fell to about 2,000 last year after drawing about 3,000 participants in 2009. About 900 athletes showed up for the Zoo Miami event in late November.

This year, Muddy Buddy will return to Richmond, Austin, Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago, Boulder, Portland, and San Jose. In addition to Orlando and Miami, the others not to make the cut were Buffalo, Detroit, New York, Minneapolis, Dallas, and Los Angeles.

Muddy Buddy, founded by endurance sports publisher and entrepreneur Bob Babbitt in 1999, was the first mud run to go national. As recently as 2008, Muddy Buddy had the national mud run scene virtually to itself. With its entry-level, two-person-team obstacle course, costume contests, and signature mud pit, it attracted thousands of casual athletes looking for an alternative to a pound-the-pavement 5K or a triathlon.

Warrior Dash provided competition in 2009, but the real challenge came in 2010 with the debuts of Tough Mudder and Spartan Race, more difficult races that drew athletes looking for a triathlon-level accomplishment with a bit of CrossFit flavor.

Not only were Tough Mudder and Spartan Race quick success stories – Tough Mudder grossed more than $30 million in 2011 – they inspired countless other events, nowhere more so than in Florida. So crowded did the Sunshine State’s mud run schedule become that Muddy Buddy scrapped plans for a season-ending 2011 championship event in Punta Gorda when Tough Mudder scheduled a Tampa Bay area event the same weekend in December.

Muddy Buddy’s move is the latest sign that the market for obstacle mud runs, which flooded in 2011, could be undergoing a shakeout. The Tampa-based World Triathlon Corp. scrapped plans for a “Primal Challenge” series of mud runs. Warrior Dash will host about 9,000 athletes for this weekend’s season kickoff event in Lake Wales, down from last year’s 13,000. Several Florida-based mud runs have not been rescheduled for 2012.

But Rock on Adventures, which staged a pair of Highlander races in Bartow last year, announced plans this week for six events in 2012, including an inaugural “Monster Bash Dash” on April 14 in Kissimmee. With Muddy Buddy no longer at Lake Buena Vista in mid-April, the Monster Bash Dash could draw some of the usual Muddy Buddy crowd.



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Get a Great Playground Workout

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Hardened Warrior?

By Pete Williams

Warrior Dash 2.0?

If you’re someone bitten by the obstacle mud run bug, you have Joe Reynolds and Warrior Dash to blame.

It was Reynolds, 31, whose Red Frog Events company launched Warrior Dash on July 18, 2009, a spin-off series to the company’s  Great Urban Race scavenger hunt that began in 2007. Other companies, most notably Competitor and its Muddy Buddy series, had combined endurance sports and mud. Warrior Dash dialed it up a notch with military training-style obstacles, costume contests, and post-race beer and parties.

Reynolds and his band of Millennials built a massive following via social media and word of mouth from their Chicago offices. A $5,000 investment in 2007 became a $50 million company at the end of 2011.

Tough Mudder and Spartan Race debuted in 2010. Dozens of competitors sprung up around the country last year. Here in Florida, we have at least two races – The Highlander and the Ragin’ Warrior – created in 2011 by guys inspired by racing in the first Warrior Dash in Florida last January.

New race organizers scoffed at the relatively easy three-mile Warrior Dash course, and dialed it up a notch with longer distances and more challenging obstacles. Tough Mudder, which stages races between 11 and 13 miles, installed a banner at its 3-mile mark reading “Warrior Dash Finish Line.”

As Warrior Dash kicks off of the 2012 obstacle mud run season with a two-day event in Lake Wales next weekend (Jan. 21-22), it’s tempting to write off the series. Tough Mudder has grabbed the lead in popularity, with Spartan Race not far behind, and many athletes are clamoring for challenges beyond what Warrior Dash provides.

Alex Yount, spokesman for Warrior Dash, says 8,899 athletes are registered to compete at Triple Canopy Ranch. That’s down from last year’s 13,176 and below the projected 13,000 for this year.

Still, Yount says the company expects to draw 1 million athletes to the 65 Warrior Dash events the year. About two-thirds already are announced, including a North Florida race March 31 in Live Oak. A third Florida location is being considered.

Athletes might be surprised by the degree of difficulty to this year’s 14 Warrior Dash obstacles. The race will include more water obstacles, some requiring athletes to swim. (Like other races, alternative challenges will be offered for non-swimmers.) At the moment, the weather looks promising, with projected highs of 78 degrees both days. (No word on the murky water temperature.)

Yount says there’s a fine line between making the race all-inclusive and yet challenging for most.

“The beauty of Warrior Dash is that it is for everyone and it’s about challenging yourself,” he said. “We want to have some pretty challenging obstacles. We’re upping the stakes by having water obstacles requiring people to swim and challenging the warriors out there that have been there year after year.”

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Chipotle’s “Super Bowl” Promotion

Chipotle's latest ad

By Pete Williams

Chipotle Mexican Grill is having some fun with the NFL’s aggressive protection of its Super Bowl trademark, promoting a burrito party pack for the “Super Big Internationally Televised Professional Football Bowl Game.”

There it is, the words “Super” and “Bowl” in a promotion around the NFL’s signature event. The Shield goes after anyone who uses “Super Bowl” in advertising, thus the use of “Big Game” and other generic language.

Will the league sue Chipotle or at least send a cease-and-desist letter?

Probably not. The NFL knows that if it targets Chipotle, a wildly-popular and successful national chain based in Tebowville (Denver), it will generate a huge amount of publicity, which only would benefit Chipotle.

Plus, it’s not like Chipotle is some local sports bar owner. It’s an $11 billion company that can fight back.

Not that Chipotle needs the publicity. Since its founding in 1993, Chipotle has spent precious little on marketing and advertising, relying on word of mouth. Its stock is up eightfold since November of 2008 and this morning set another all-time high. It has more than 1,200 stores, including several in Europe, and its new Asian-themed restaurant, Shophouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, has met with rave reviews since opening last year in the nation’s capital. Endurance athletes love Chipotle, which has sponsored a Tour de France team.

The NFL has every right to protect its trademark. The irony, of course, is that “Super” Bowl is a corny term, something Greg Brady might have coined while playing touch football with Peter and Bobby on the family’s backyard AstroTurf.

Pete Rozelle knew this. According to “America’s Game,” the definitive NFL history written by Michael MacCambridge, the former NFL commissioner hated the term “Super Bowl.” The title was invented in 1966 by LaMar Hunt, the Kansas City Chiefs owner, after watching his children play with a Super Ball, a hot novelty item of that time.

Rozelle, according to MacCambridge’s book, was a stickler for grammar and thought the word super, like “neat” or “gee-whiz” was a word that lacked sophistication. But before the league could come up with another title for its championship, headline writers, commentators and even players started using “Super Bowl.”

The other irony of Chipotle latching onto the Super Bowl is that it’s a rare instance where the NFL is associated with healthy food. There’s not one NFL sponsor that could be considered healthy food or drink. (Even Gatorade isn’t something that should be consumed by anyone other than hardcore athletes.) It’s difficult if not impossible to find a healthy food option at an NFL venue outside of perhaps the luxury boxes and maybe the club levels. When NFL teams give out freebie T-shirts at games, they distribute a single size, the one that reflects the bodies of most of their customers.

Extra large.

The NFL promotes sedentary, sit-on-the-couch behavior perhaps more than any American business. NFL programming dominates the list of television’s highest-rated shows. It’s not a stretch to say that the NFL is partially responsible for the obesity epidemic.

Heck, the NFL is the only major sports league featuring a significant percentage of obese participants. Broadcasters can talk all day about the athleticism of 340-pound linemen, but there are countless stories of ex-NFL players who struggle with their health because they can’t lose the weight.

Then there’s Chipotle, which features meat and dairy products from animals raised without hormones and antibiotics, along with produce that’s locally sourced and organic wherever possible. Company founder Steve Ells has challenged the food industry to get away from factory farming and processed garbage. The success of Chipotle indicates that there’s a demand for it.

Ells is a fan of the late Steve Jobs, who upended the computer, music, and phone industries. Ells might have a bigger impact if he can achieve his goal of changing the way America eats. Already fast food chains are scrambling to change. So too are fern bar, sit-down restaurants who have seen Chipotle’s fast-casual, all-natural concept erode their business.

As for the NFL, it should embrace Chipotle’s Super Bowl promotion.

Since the lawyers are quiet, we’re guessing The Shield already has.

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