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Elite eating: Bodybuilding champ turns background in Jersey pizzerias plus competitive spirit into million-dollar healthy meal business

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Carlo Filippone, founder and CEO, Elite Lifestyle Cuisine, speaks about the various dishes he offers.
Carlo Filippone, founder and CEO, Elite Lifestyle Cuisine, speaks about the various dishes he offers. - ()

Carlo Filippone said he prides himself on being a lifelong learner.

So, when his friends “dared” him to become a champion bodybuilder, Filippone took their challenge to heart.

“I taught myself about diet and nutrition by going to the library and bookstore and reading every piece of literature I could find,” he said. “I became fascinated with the body’s ability to change, lose fat and gain muscle by controlling what one eats.”

Now a three-time national champion bodybuilder, Filippone has used that knowledge to create Elite Lifestyle Cuisine in Fairview, rapidly growing the convenient — and affordable — healthy meal delivery service into a more than $1 million business in a $500 million industry.

“The mental focus I’ve learned through bodybuilding also has helped me in business,” Filippone, founder and CEO, said. “It’s simple: if we consume the right items, we can live a fuller and healthier life.”

That sometimes even can mean Italian cuisine, Filippone said.

Industry competition

The only drawback to owning a meal delivery service company, Carlo Filippone, founder and CEO of Elite Lifestyle Cuisine, said, is how popular it has become.

“Everyone now is opening up some kind of meal prep or kit company,” he said. “Even local individuals are doing this from their kitchens without the proper certifications and licenses, but still reaping the benefits.”

It is a double-edged sword, Filippone said.

“While it’d certainly be easier to survive without it, competition is what keeps you ahead of your game,” he said. “With busier lifestyles and both partners now likely working outside of the home, this market is only going to get bigger and better.”

Industry experts, Filippone added, have predicted 20 percent growth in the market over the next year.

Filippone believes Elite Lifestyle Cuisine has the advantage.

“We tend to believe that most people don’t want to be bothered with cooking when they get home,” he said. “You sacrifice an hour of your day for a $10 meal, and, we send you something healthy already cooked for about $10 a meal.”

Balancing act

Carlo Filippone, founder and CEO of Elite Lifestyle Cuisine, is a busy entrepreneur. But the nearly 47-year-old said he still makes time for exercise by beginning his day at 5:30 a.m. with his favorite cardio workout: walking.

“I enjoy long morning walks around Fort Lee,” he said.

Then, after working in the office from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Filippone said that he still finds the time to work out again at least three times a week, focusing more on old-school weight and plyometric training.

•••

Growing up in Cliffside Park, Filippone learned to cook by working at his father’s pizzeria in West New York.

“By my senior year in high school, I essentially was running the place at night,” he said.

When it came time to study accounting at Bergen Community College, Filippone said he grew increasingly frustrated with how “boring” the curriculum was.

“Then, one night, I came home and saw that my Dad had (the restaurant’s) books open on the kitchen table,” Filippone said. “I pointed to a number and asked, ‘What is that?’

“When my father said, ‘That’s the restaurant’s gross sales,’ I said, what am I even doing in school?”

Filippone quickly switched gears to help his father manage the pizzeria.

Then, in 1992, he was invited to attend the Mr. New Jersey bodybuilding contest.

“When the competitors took the stage, I don’t know, I just wasn’t overly impressed,” Filippone said. “So, my friends said, ‘Well, if you think it’s so easy, why don’t you do it?’

“That’s really all I needed to hear.”

After winning the Mr. New Jersey contest the following year, Filippone started pursuing competitions and personal training requests while his brother took over his responsibilities at the pizzeria.

“But when a pizzeria was put up for sale in (Fairview), I saw an opportunity,” Filippone said. “The plan was to build up the location, and, because it was larger, my Dad would then sell his place in West New York and he, my brother and I would then work together.”

Though Filippone successfully managed Angelo’s Pizzeria Restaurant in Fairview from 1997 to 2005, serving as both president and executive chef of the establishment began to take a toll.

“I grew tired of working weekends,” he said. “And I wanted to try something different.”

•••

With two national bodybuilding championships now under his belt, Filippone decided to create Healthy Meals Café in 2006 to prepare and serve frozen, healthy meals to patrons from a 500-square-foot space within a local gym.

“When nonpatrons started coming in from outside the gym, a friend of mine approached me about working together on a joint venture,” Filippone said.

The duo formed a small food distribution company in 2008, but Filippone said he quickly realized it wasn’t going to work.

“The idea was to sell our meals to different gyms and have them retail our products, but gyms weren’t particularly handling (it) well because it was not their main source of revenue,” Filippone said. “The integrity of our product was then left in question.”

That is when Filippone had the idea to sell direct-to-consumer.

“My friend, however, wanted to continue to try to cater to gyms,” he said.

Their difference of opinion led to a loss of intellectual property for Filippone when he left the now-defunct company to pursue his own venture.

“I left everything behind so that I could go out and start a company and product that I alone conceptualized,” he said.

Filippone started Elite Lifestyle Cuisine in 2013 with a total investment of $8,000, delivering healthy, ready-in-seven-minute meals to consumers for about $10 each.

“We started with local deliveries only,” he said. “We were able to grow to the point of being able to hire a local courier service in 2014, and in 2015, we expanded our distribution orders to be able to utilize FedEx.”

Today, Elite Lifestyle Cuisine’s 14 employees work to ship to approximately 625 customers each month.

While the company does ship throughout the U.S., Filippone said its success has been built entirely at home.

“Every dollar that we have made is reinvested into the company, so we try to be strategic in where we market,” he said. “That is why all of our advertising is really within the New York metropolitan area.

“It is still the greatest market for what we are doing.”

•••

In 2015, the company caught the eye of Steve Weatherford, former punter for the National Football League’s New York Giants and New York Jets.

“After requesting a second order, Weatherford became a real fan of the product and asked to become more involved,” Filippone said.

Weatherford is now a partner in the company.

There is no question why a famous athlete would want to partner with Elite Lifestyle Cuisine, Filippone said.

All meals, made with all-natural and preservative-free ingredients, contain the perfect proportions of proteins, carbohydrates and grains.

And, a consumer could have a turkey sausage and egg white frittata for breakfast; an Asian chicken stir-fry for lunch; and the pineapple apricot cod for dinner, all while managing to stay under allotted daily calories.

Elite Lifestyle Cuisine offers three levels of meal plans, delivering seven meals a week for $70, 10 meals a week for $95 and 14 meals a week for $129.

“We also offer our meals a la carte, so that, for those times that meals may back up in the fridge, people don’t have to commit to a subscription,” Filippone said.

His current client base, he said, is currently evenly split between subscriptions and a la carte.

Elite Lifestyle Cuisine also offers a $639, one-month “shred” plan, delivering 14 gender-specific meals each week, plus a 30-day supply of its grass-fed organic whey protein powder or its vegan meal-replacement shake.

The company also offers a “Forever Juice” line ($49 for a 30-day supply) intended to fight fatigue and aging, cleanse and detoxify, and strengthen immunity.

“They contain all the fruits and vegetables that all of our bodies need, but for whatever reason, we are not able to ingest consistently,” Filippone said.

•••

Elite Lifestyle Cuisine essentially offers something for everyone out there — especially in New Jersey, Filippone said.

“We are such a diverse state, with access to so many different people,” he said. “New Jersey is a great place to start a business.”

Filippone said he is proud to follow in his father’s footsteps in that way.

“I’m a son of an immigrant from Italy, whose dream was to come to America and start a business to give his family the opportunity for a better life,” he said. “I don’t believe that there are too many places on this Earth where you can have several opportunities, and, even if you fail, pick yourself back up and restart.

“For that, I am thankful. Being in this area has helped Elite Lifestyle Cuisine become what it is today and what it will be tomorrow.”

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Meg Fry

Meg Fry


Meg Fry writes about women in business, millennials, food and beverage, manufacturing and retail. Meg joined NJBIZ with past production experience in the arts, film and television and continues to write and perform in theaters around the state. You may contact her at megf@njbiz.com.

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