Rod Silva believes America is ready to stick to its resolutions this year.
“It used to be, on New Year’s Eve, people would say, ‘I’m going on a diet and I’m only going to eat celery.’ It’d last three days before they’d find themselves wolfing down cake,” he said. “But people are getting smarter about themselves. We’re getting to the point where people are saying, ‘I have to take care of myself.’ They’re understanding that it has to become a lifestyle.”
It has certainly been Silva’s. A nutrition and fitness enthusiast since age 18, Silva, founder and director of brand development for Muscle Maker Grill in Colonia, has been providing healthy eating for a variety of dietary needs since 1995.
From a single store to nearly 60 locations, 24 in New Jersey alone, with about 40 corporate employees and about 550 across franchises since 2007, Muscle Maker Grill is currently in 12 states and looking to be in five more by the end of 2016.
Acquired by American Restaurant Holdings Inc. in Irvine, California, earlier this year, Silva’s company continues to work to open more than 200 additional locations over the next three to five years.
“Let’s not keep chasing fads — let’s chase the real things,” Silva said.
If that sounds like a campaign slogan, it’s because it is one: Silva has also decided to run for president as an independent candidate.
Close to getting on the ballot in Colorado, Silva said, it’s his ultimate goal to make America healthy again.
“I threw my hat into the ring because my story resonates with all Americans,” Silva said. “They’re either fit, they’re trying to be or they know someone who suffers from health conditions that prevent them from being so.”
NJBIZ caught up with Silva — a Newark native and Middlesex County resident for 20 years — on the campaign trail to discuss Muscle Maker Grill’s expansion and his presidential pledge.
Company: Muscle Maker Grill
Position: Founder and director of brand development
School Ties: Middlesex County College; Kean University
Family tree: Wife, Tara; daughter, Jacey Rose; son, Lucas
When you brag about Jersey to people from out of state, you say: I just got back from Southern California, where they like to bring up the Jersey Shore or The Sopranos. But we have the best beaches; we’re 30 minutes away from New York City; we’re 30 minutes to the mountains; and we’re the greatest people because we tell it like it is.
Favorite place to go/vacation: If we’re not taking advantage of our Disney timeshare, we’re down in Ocean Beach or Lavallette renting a beach bungalow.
Giants, Jets, Yankees, Mets: Red Bulls — I’m Brazilian, so soccer is my first sport.
Favorite place to eat: Anywhere I can get a good steak and a Caesar salad.
Hobbies and interests: I exercise every day. I’m also busy raising my two kids, as I’m very active with my son’s soccer team, and my daughter is a competitive gymnast. But I get on the stair stepper, and I do as much as I can of that. Then I’ll lift weights and circuit train for cardio. I’ve been exercising this way since I was 15. I love it.
Best advice you ever received: Never make a hard decision unless you have to. Sometimes, if you take care of it today, tomorrow takes care of itself. A lot of times, we let issues steamroll into major issues. They then become harder to overcome. Try. If you make a mistake, be humble and quick minded enough to fix it.
Something about you your co-workers don’t know: I’m a pretty open book. I pride myself on transparency. There is too much card-playing in life. People want people to think they’re someone that they’re not. Good, bad, indifferent, I am who I am.
NJBIZ: What is Muscle Maker Grill all about?
Rod Silva: We all don’t have as much time as we’d like to take care of ourselves or cook home-cooked meals. Muscle Maker Grill makes food that people love to eat healthier. We’ve got Italian, Oriental, Americana, Cajun, Mexican, Southwestern variety; we’ve got low- to nonfat options and gluten-free; we’ve introduced kale, quinoa, spinach and other superfoods with antioxidants that can fight disease; from salads and lean meat-based dishes to pastas, stir fry and BBQ, we’ve got it all — except processed food. I eat Muscle Maker Grill seven days a week.
NJBIZ: You were studying liberal arts and business at Middlesex County College and Kean University when you decided to open your own business. What inspired you?
RS: I didn’t want to go into 9-to-5 corporate right away and I took all my electives in nutrition. So, I instead opened up a sport supplement store and smoothie bar. I’d bring in my own home cooked meals to work and (customers) wanted to eat my food — so I’d make it for them. The president of a local bank saw the concept and loaned me money off of my 1970 Nissan Maxima to install a kitchen. That’s when it became Muscle Maker Grill.
NJBIZ: What was it like owning and running a small business at such a young age?
RS: New Jersey has been great to me. It’s a high-density state with great people. People here are straight shooters — they’ll tell you what they like and don’t like. The fact that we have strip malls on every corner is good for growth, too. It’s an expensive state, but we know that. We’re also the only state in which you can’t hide — we’re all connected somehow. People know people. If you’re a good person, people will know that; if you’re not so good, people will know that, too.
NJBIZ: Is that what helped Muscle Maker Grill start expanding so successfully in 2007?
RS: Despite the economic collapse, I felt like we had done a great job as a single-store unit in our local market. But I also felt like it was just time to make America healthy by giving people healthy alternatives to what they were eating. We’re still growing every day — we’re now the official wrap (provider) at MetLife Stadium, we’re on a military base, we’ve got two corporate stores in Southern California, and we’re developing a fresh food truck program in Texas — every day our development plan gets more aggressive.
NJBIZ: What would you say is your greatest business accomplishment to date?
RS: My proudest moment is when my dad — who came here alone from Brazil to go to college at the age of 18 and put himself through (New Jersey Institute of Technology) — slapped me on the back and said I was living the American dream. Thirteen years ago, my father had a heart attack in his car at the house I grew up in. That is why I am so passionate about this.
NJBIZ: Hence why you are running for president — to try to make a change.
RS: Back in 1995, when I said I was going to make a healthy, fast casual restaurant, people laughed at me. I made eating healthy great, and I can bring the same success to this campaign. (The Centers for Disease Control says) high blood pressures costs the nation $46 billion each year in health care services, medications and missed work; high cholesterol affects 74 million Americans — these are staggering numbers that will collapse our health care system. One of the issues we need to focus on this political season is the health of our American people. Our health care system is overloaded. People can’t work because they don’t feel good.
NJBIZ: Why do you believe you’re the right choice?
RS: People said, ‘How can Ronald Reagan — an actor — become president?’ In my opinion, he did the best job of all the presidents in my lifetime. I know what it takes and costs to live in America and I know how to make it better. I am someone with integrity and a bigger vision than myself. I’m thinking about the next generation. We’re putting the American people last and I don’t think that’s the right approach. It’s about time we talk about our people.
NJBIZ: What’s your strategy?
RS: Jumping into the (presidential) race now gives me more time and flexibility to build momentum as an independent. And social media is so powerful, that once news of my campaign goes viral, people are going to want to get behind it and get involved.
NJBIZ: Which experiences have given you the qualifications necessary to become the next president?
RS: I think I’m the most qualified, because everyone else is extremely wealthy and out of touch with the average American. By the time this election comes around, I will have had over 20 years of leadership, having seen a business through economic collapse without going bankrupt — even when my No. 1 store in Manhattan collapsed from Superstorm Sandy.
NJBIZ: Aside from winning, what is the best possible outcome of this campaign?
RS: If I can get my message out and people talking about it, we have a victory.
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