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Former Outback executive launches heat-at-home Fitlife Foods

A former Outback Steakhouse executive has launched Fitlife Foods, a sleek takeout place dishing up fresh-made, heat-at-home meals that only sound indulgent.

Good-for-you restaurant fare has rarely been good for businesses trying to attract repeat diners. But borrowing some culinary tricks from Seasons 52, an upscale chain known for tasty sub-500-calorie entrees and keeping no butter on premises, Fitlife owner David Osterweil is counting on spices, cooking techniques and obscure combinations to make foodies forget they're downing less fat, lower sodium and fewer bad carbs.

"We're about taste and well-balanced meals, not deprivation," said the 33-year-old founder, who opened Fitlife Foods at 1902 S Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa two months ago with a plan and kitchen capacity for three more stores locally within a year.

The top seller: an unlikely barbecued beef with mac and cheese spiced with carrot, onion and secret seasonings. Other favorites are miso salmon over wok vegetables and quinoa, and a breakfast muesli of steel-cut oats, almonds, Greek yogurt and fruit mixed with orange blossom honey.

Serving-size pricing reinforces portion control. Small entrees priced around $6.50 typically pack fewer than 400 calories while large portions hit $11.25 and barrel beyond 600 calories.

Designed for the time-pressed who typically buy three or more meals a trip, Fitlife draws lines Sundays and Mondays, while Fridays and Saturdays are slow.

Osterweil, the product of a fourth-generation Tampa family, started with Outback in a waiter's job at one of the founders' brother's restaurants in Virginia as he worked on his MBA at American University. Back in his hometown, Osterweil rose from an Outback corporate intern to Carrabba's Italian Grill's director of culinary strategy.

He left to fulfil a dream of creating his own company.

A veteran marathon runner, he brings an athlete's knowledge of food as fuel to a tableful of recipes from spa chefs.

He puts his nutritious gourmet takeout wherever healthy eaters hang out. He delivers to fitness centers, soon will accept online orders and converts his 42-item menu into Weight Watchers points. He dangled incentives to sign endorsements from 24 personal trainers. Fitlife provides a nutritionist's advice for a small fee and offers 15 percent discounts to anybody signing up for a 21-day, three-meal-a-day regimen.

Publix is developing uniform coupon rules

With grocers scrambling to match rivals' coupon deals, Publix Super Markets will soon unveil its first chainwide coupon-redemption policies.

Until now the Lakeland chain's rules varied by store with competitive pressures. Publix says it's responding to shoppers who want uniformity in the five states where it operates.

Brookstone tries new theme store

Brookstone, long an item merchant for innovative gadgets, is trying its first theme approach to boost front-door stopping power.

In a 14-store test including International Plaza, the chain shoved the massage chairs back to make the front of the store home to 30 outdoor entertainment products.

The showcase features a $1,995 resin wicker sectional, an $80 self-watering planter, a $229 fire pit and a $170 electric grill.

"It's a dramatic change for us," said Ron Boire, the Brookstone chief executive who tripled the outdoor living/entertainment goods in stores while doubling the selection online to 1,000.

The economy is a big reason Brookstone threw in with patio stores prodding people to treat the back yard as another room.

Research found two-thirds of shoppers would rather have friends over than meet them in a restaurant. Almost half prefer investing in the patio to traveling on vacation this summer.

Traffic is up 20 percent at the Tampa store.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

Former Outback executive launches heat-at-home Fitlife Foods 05/02/11 [Last modified: Monday, May 2, 2011 8:18pm]
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