In 2015, Eric Larosa didn’t know it, but in just three short years, he would be on the brink of revolutionizing the healthy, clean eating food industry in the United States. Overweight and unhappy with his body, which affected other areas of his life, Larosa decided to do something about it. After months of research and gradually eating better on his own, Larosa decided to launch LeanFeast, a clean eating food store, to help others struggling with their own weight issues.
Like most startups, Larosa balanced his new company with a 9 to 5 job and family. But he quickly saw the results of his hard work pay off as more people found out about LeanFeast and its mission.
After three highly successful years and tremendous growth, LeanFest now feeds major sports teams like the San Francisco 49ers along with branches of the U.S. Military. LeanFest’s brick and mortar stores also feed thousands of average people each day who want to eliminate the high calorie foods they used to consume elsewhere.
LeanFeast’s success in Northern California has led to franchise opportunities and new branches will open their doors in 2019. Larosa is humbled by the company’s growth, especially after confessing it is the first job in which he has truly been all-in.
Larosa, the founder and CEO of the U.S.’s premier clean eating establishment, recently sat down with Totalprestige Magazine to tell us about LeanFeast’s past, present, and future.
Eric, you created LeanFeast due to your own battles with weight. Can you tell us about your health issues prior to LeanFeast and what exactly was the final measure that influenced your founding of the company?
In 2015, I was overweight, unhappy with my body, and had no direction in which way I wanted my life to go. Yes, I was happily married with a beautiful wife and son, but the issue was my body and the way I took care of it. I disliked the way I felt, looked, and most of all, how my body functioned. Getting up in the morning and feeling like a truck ran over me in my sleep was not ideal. At the time I worked a very physical job. I wasn’t exercising, and I was eating processed, fast and freezer foods. Needless to say, my body and the way it felt was not a priority. One day, it just hit me, and I said to myself, “I’m over it.” I did a lot of research about the food industry and eating clean. I realized that I could still eat good food, but in a different way. I started cooking my lunches for the week on Sundays and it all took off from there.
LeanFeast provides healthy meals on the go. Who are the ideal customers for LeanFeast and what can they expect from the company?
Our ideal customers are the everyday consumer. Our customer range is very wide at this level of the company. In the early stages, the companies target customers were the fitness minded and body builder type. As the company started to grow, I realized that everyone needs to eat better, not just the fitness world. I slowly started to change my marketing material and started to branch out to the everyday consumer. After several weeks of research, I started to change my personal mindset as well. I reached out to families, working professionals, athletes, service industry, and the military. Currently, we feed all walks of life. Some of our biggest clients are the San Francisco 49ers, San Jose Sharks, San Francisco Giants, San Jose Earthquakes, San Jose State University sports programs, active and non-active military branches, all service industries which include: police, fire, hospital, sanitation, hospitality, tech sales, families, and students. You name it, we feed them. Our consumer can expect a well-balanced clean meal that is portioned correctly with a fresh flavor. It is convenient for the busy/active lifestyle that they live with fast and friendly service in store and attention to detail that they won’t find anywhere else.
LeanFeast went from a two-man crew and into an eight-man company in a short period of time. Can you tell us about the early success you achieved and those early days of rapid growth?
In 2015, with just myself on the payroll, and just like every other startup company, it all started with an idea of how you think the company is going to succeed. In my case, I never in a million years thought that LeanFeast would be as successful as it is today. I worked very long hours and put all of my time into it. Luckily, I had a family that understood the importance of the direction I was trying to take it. As the company started to grow, the physical work was just too much for one person to handle. Our online presence started to increase rapidly, and more orders started to flood in. At that point, I decided to quit my day job of 60 hours week as a supervisor for a delivery company which allowed me more time during the week to process all the orders. Word of mouth really started to take off and my inbox was flooded with orders before I knew it. I had one choice at that time, and that was to hire someone to help me. I called upon a coworker that was at the delivery company with me. I sat down with Benny Cortez over dinner one night and explained to him the direction that my company was going. It was a total reach out there because I couldn’t pay Benny a lot of money, but he understood the risk involved and agreed to be my right-hand man. At this point, Benny was working as a delivery driver, a bar back, and on the weekends with LeanFeast. A few months in, our clientele started to grow again. I invested in a newer website that could handle more online traffic since the first one I built myself from a template only allowed us the minimum number of orders. Now that we had a better website that ran more efficiently, our traffic started to rise. Also, at this time I read a lot about Instagram and started to market us on social media. Benny and I would go out on our off days and sit in gyms and health fairs promoting our business. Once the word got out there, it was off to the races. It went from working a few days a week to seven days a week. At this point we outgrew the kitchen that we were renting at the time. I decided to put all of my eggs into one basket and open up our own brick and mortar location. In June 2017, the first LeanFeast location opened.
Eric, what was your career like prior to opening LeanFeast?
Before LeanFeast, I was all over the place. I never was happy about the job that I had. I had a great work ethic, but I never committed to anything. I held employment for long periods of time, but it was never what I wanted to do. All of the jobs I had were only allowing me to live paycheck to paycheck and struggling every day. Most of my career was spent in retail and delivery. I even DJ’d for a bit to make some extra cash on the weekends. I would always tell myself to be better and everything would work out, but for the longest time it didn’t. It wasn’t until I met my wife and had my son. Once those two things happened, my world changed, and I realized I better do something, and I better do it quickly.
LeanFeast offers franchise opportunities. Who are the franchisees you are looking to work with and what can they expect from working with the company?
LeanFeast is looking for like-minded people that are passionate about changing the world. We are looking for franchisees that want to grow and be multi-unit operators that hold a high value on their own life, have great work ethic, a humbled approach and the drive to succeed in owning something of their own. Coming from the ground up and not having anything of my own, my franchisees can expect to receive a very high level of partnership, love, passion, guidance, and a chance to succeed.
How difficult is it to take a company from humble beginnings and into franchise mode?
Let’s just say it was no easy task. Trying to focus on growing a small business to take over the Modern Meal Market was tougher than I ever thought it was going to be. I did not have any advice from anyone. I only had opinions. I didn’t know anyone personally that had done what I was trying to do. I reached out to an old friend, who is now the vice president of our company, for advice and he mentioned his neighbor was on the franchise team for a restaurant chain in the Midwest. I flew out to the Midwest to meet with him and he gave us some very crucial information about how the franchising industry works. He gave us two options and left us to decide the route we should go. After months of research and sleepless nights, we decided to franchise because we figured that was the only way to spread the word and make a difference. The entire franchise process was about nine months long and included numerous daily phone calls, meetings, legal action, audits, and several other processes I never even knew existed. I had dinner one night with my VP and we decided that the pros completely outweighed the cons. We left the dinner saying to ourselves, “well, if this doesn’t work, at least we can look back and say we tried.” So far, the process has proven itself and just 30-days after launching the franchise program we have awarded two franchises that are set to open in 2019.
You fought your own weight problems prior to opening Lean Feast. Why are so many restaurants in America ignoring the weight problems of the population?
It all comes down to money and the overall success of Corporate America. As the years have gone by since starting LeanFeast, I have researched hundreds of restaurants. In all of my research and as companies grow, there are very few places that actually care about the well-being of their customers. At LeanFeast that is our number one priority and it will continue to be that as we grow and roll into other cities. For me, it has never been about money, but always about changing the game and actually feeling good about something. It is an indescribable feeling when you get an email from a customer that has lost 80-pounds and they tell you that you have changed their life.
How do you come up with the recipes and foods listed on the menu?
It’s very simple. I listen. I listen to what our customers tell us. When dieting or eating clean, there is only so much you can have. You need to stay away from so many things. So, I base our menu on the things that you are allowed to have and items that are healthy versus unhealthy that we need to stay away from. I have created recipes that are diet and health friendly and researched simple, clean, and tasty foods. I was always that person that could take anything in my fridge and turn it into a meal, so the recipe part was very easy for me to manage. In early adulthood, I struggled to put food on the table, so I had to work with the bare minimum. The good thing about that is eating clean is all about bare minimum, I’ve just figured out the variety and flavor part.
When creating your menu, what is your philosophy for creating healthy meals?
I think it is important to emphasize the flavor factor. Eating simple and clean can be a very challenging task and if you do not have variety and flavor, you will get bored and eventually veer off and make bad choices on what you are putting into your body. It is very easy to get off track and go back to the corporate chains and fast food restaurants where everything is stuffed with fillers, oils, preservatives, sugar and unnecessary items. At LeanFeast all the food is fresh, seasoned and flavorful, with zero fillers or preservatives.
As you expand nationally through franchises, what are your goals over the next five years with Lean Fest?
Our goals for the next five years are to open more stores, so we can revolutionize the clean eating industry and also to award franchisees that want to change the world. I do now have a goal for the number of stores we will open, but as long as each one is quality and customer service driven, with successful operators that are doing what they love, we are happy.
Eric, what is a day in your life like?
As any entrepreneur would say, it’s crazy. I am a person of structure. I wake up and have a couple cups of coffee while answering emails, text messages, and phone calls throughout the day. I spend time with my son when he gets out of school and I make sure to have dinner with my family every night that I am in town. Prior to starting the franchise, I woke up at 4 a.m. and worked at the brick and mortar location until 9 p.m. I recently moved to the Midwest to focus on the overall growth of the business while Benny Cortez runs the store in San Jose. While trying to grow the business in several different ways, I also remotely run the back end of the store in San Jose by ordering products, paying bills, and being there for my team when they need it. I also focus on making sure that everything runs smooth and that we do not forget our roots and the direction the company is going. I’ve had to learn to have a different structure for the franchise. I am no longer needed in the store and have a different roll now in the company. I have always been a worker but now I am also the coach, the face and the guy behind all the decisions. It’s a challenging task, but as I sit here day to day, I remember where we started and what my role is now.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I am a very shy and reserved person. Prior to LeanFeast, I kept to myself. Speaking in large crowds or giving speeches is not really my thing. I have learned to overcome that by talking about my company.
What makes you smile?
My son, my wife, a successful business and the fact that I am alive and have a purpose here. I look in the mirror every single day and thank everyone that has ever helped me along the way.
What scares you?
The one thing that scares me most is not making the right decisions to better the growth of the company and provide for my family. I have come a long way since the beginning when I used to make rash decisions. Now I really try to think everything through and reach out to my peers for advice if I need it.
Do you have any hobbies?
I have a few. I love to relax and play Xbox. It is the only thing that takes my mind off of work in the moment. I have been a gamer my entire life. It is my escape place. Although I am not very good at it, I also love to build things and bring my creations to life. I also like to work out, ride bikes, and cook.
Which historical figure do you most admire?
I would have to say Steve Jobs. I myself have a love for technology and we use it daily. But the main reason why is because he had a vision. He tried and tried until it worked. There was no other option. He did not give up. LeanFeast is the first thing I’ve never given up on. I had to make it work. With all my eggs in one basket, there was no other option.
Can you share two of your favorite quotes with us?
“Never put yourself in a position that could lead others to question your character, your trustworthiness, or your integrity.”
“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
– Richard Branson
If you had the power to change just one thing in the world what would it be?
If I could do anything to change the world, it would be to get rid of hunger. I’ve always hated seeing someone hungry or thirsty.
For more about Eric Larosa, LeanFeast, and its franchise opportunities, please visit https://www.leanfeast.com/