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Fitlife Foods concept a healthy twist on fast food

ST. PETERSBURG — A former Outback Steakhouse executive has brought his new concept of freshly made, healthy takeout meals to St. Petersburg. Fitlife Foods recently opened at 3047 Fourth St. N next to Yogurtology.

"Its healthy but it's the food that people want to eat," said David Osterweil who has opened two Fitlife stores in Tampa and one in Clearwater in the past year. "We're making food like chicken tacos and spinach and artichoke dip but in a better way."

It's for health-conscious folks who are running a marathon or just busy folks who are running behind, said Osterweil, 35, an avid runner himself.

Think of Fitlife Foods as a store lined with refrigerators full of freshly made Lean Cuisines, but tastier. There are about 60 different breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack items on the menu. Most are available in small, medium and large individual serving containers.

Small sizes average around 400 calories each, (some are below 200) while large portions weigh in around 800 calories.

But the food made daily in Tampa costs more than commercial frozen fare in grocery stores. Small single-serving entrees average around $6, medium sized cost about $8 and large are in the $10 range.

Substitutions are a key to the healthier options. Greek yogurt, caramelized carrots and onions or pureed cauliflower are used instead of heavy cream, butter or mayonnaise in some recipes. With 39 original sauces, flavor isn't sacrificed, Osterweil stressed. "And our food is loaded with protein."

Menu items that back up his claim include barbecued beef with macaroni and cheese, lemon pepper tilapia and Sicilian chicken meatballs and pasta.

Stacey Robinson, a family physician from St. Petersburg, was recently buying a citrus salmon salad at the new store.

"I've been looking for something like this for my patients,'' she said. Of course she likes that the menu features healthy options but what's more important to her is that the meals are made with real foods that everyone can pronounce.

"I hadn't heard of it before," said David Watkins, a district manager for Fresh Market who came across the street from the grocery store to check out the potential competition. "It's a good concept."

Though the 1,200-square-foot store features two microwave ovens built into the wall and two small cafe tables for customers who want to eat on the spot, most opt for takeout.

About a third of customers buy enough meals for seven, 14 or 21 days and meet with wellness coaches to work on weight loss. Another third buy five or six meals a week while another third get just one or two at a time.

Osterweil wouldn't say what each store cost to open, but said he raised money from private investors to start the company and open the first stores. He plans to open a franchise in Orlando soon and is finalizing franchise agreements. A franchise fee would be around $30,000.

Katherine Snow Smith can be contacted at (727) 893-8785 or kssmith@tampabay.com.

Fitlife Foods concept a healthy twist on fast food 02/09/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 8, 2013 3:33pm]

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