When David Osterweil set out to create a new retail food business based upon fresh, ready-to-eat healthy meals, his goal was to get folks through the door of his lone South Dale Mabry location.
Luckily for Osterweil, who mortgaged his house to start Fitlife Foods in February 2011 (and has since opened two outlets in North Tampa and Clearwater), the customers did come. And among some of those early customers were out-of-town members of the Republican National Convention’s advance team.
Osterweil, 35, was ecstatic when members of the team asked him to participate in the vendor selection process. But it didn’t take long for him to realize that the path to selling his food at the convention would not be an easy one.
His trek began with providing regular catering to the advance crew in their offices in the Bank of America tower. In April, Osterweil and a host of other local vendors were invited to participate in an “official tasting.” A phone call and letter followed in May designating Fitlife Foods as an “official caterer” to the Republican Convention.
Mission accomplished? Not quite. “Being on the ‘official’ list didn’t guarantee us any business,” according to Osterweil.
As he was preparing for yet another tasting, this time with potential convention customers, his phone rang. A member of the NBC News convention logistics team was on the line, asking if they could fly to Tampa to sample some of Fitlife’s food. (Who says network news is in decline — flying into town for a tasting?) Following an impromptu visit, which consisted of the NBC representative randomly pulling dishes from Osterweil’s coolers and tasting them, the network gave the thumbs up and signed a contract, which will result in Fitlife Foods serving 8,500 meals over a six-day period to NBC’s personnel on the ground. Under the agreement, everyone from the soundman to NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams will be eating Osterweil’s food. NBC’s cable sister MSNBC soon followed suit, contracting for 1,500 meals. Bright House Cable and CBS’s convention production team also signed on, as did the Republicans’ advance team. The planned menu includes Tampa Bay BBQ beef, chicken gyro, Mom’s meat loaf and Jamaican pork. Fitlife has also enlisted another local company, Extreme Juice, to provide over 2,000 frozen smoothies.
The Tampa Bay Times Forum has become Osterweil’s second home. He and his team began feeding the convention set-up team on July 23, and are contracted to provide meals five days a week straight through September 7. (The breakdown team has to eat, too.)
But it’s not all glory for Osterweil and his team. Fitlife’s food is now regularly prodded and tested by the FDA. The Secret Service is on a first-name basis with David, and all team employees have undergone background checks. He also had to rent a portable kitchen for his team to use at the convention center.
Asked if his six-week foray into the world of celebrity catering would be profitable, Osterweil hesitated before responding, “Yes, yes it will be profitable.” His tentative smile made you wonder. Still, this fourth generation Tampa native is happy to be setting the table for one of the most famous events in Tampa history. To boot, his decision to take the RNC plunge has resulted in Fitlife Foods bringing on an additional 15 employees to work exclusively at the convention, which, if nothing else, means more folks in Tampa are earning a living.
Osterweil doesn’t plan to take a vacation when the lunacy ends in September. Instead, he has his eyes focused across the bay, where he plans to open his fourth Fitlife Foods in St. Petersburg this January.