Don’t tell Rod Silva that healthy food can't taste great. As the founder of Muscle Maker Grill, a line of restaurants offering nutritious alternatives to fast food, Silva has built his business on the idea that he can change the way Americans think about health food.
His formula has turned Muscle Maker Grill into a successful and growing franchise that currently has more than 60 locations. That growth is set to continue in the coming years thanks to an additional 200 commitments from franchisees to open more stores.
Silva's success is all the more remarkable considering the fact that his original dive into entrepreneurship did not include plans to open a restaurant. Instead, Silva started Muscle Maker Nutrition Center in 1995 as a store offering smoothies and nutrition supplements.
"I was in a labor union and my true passion was exercise and being fit," Silva said. "When I was doing construction it was physical labor, but it wasn't my passion."
Silva followed his passion when he opened Muscle Maker Nutrition Center, but the next step in his journey of turning that store into Muscle Maker Grill occurred unintentionally.
"I used to bring in food from home for myself because I would be working all day," Silva said. "Every time I reheated my food all the customers would ask about my food. I started to cook extra food for the people who wanted to eat it, so I didn’t have to give up my lunch."
When his business became an inadvertent showcase for his own food creations, Silva saw an opportunity and capitalized on it. He added a grill to his shop and changed the name to Muscle Maker Grill. Since then, Silva has grown his company with a simple and straightforward business plan and a successful experience with franchising.
First and foremost, Silva knows it's his approach to healthy food that keeps customers coming back to Muscle Maker Grill. For that reason, Silva is meticulous about every option that makes the menu.
"That is what separates us. A lot of other health food stores start with something that doesn't taste good and they try to make it taste OK and it never works. We take everyone's favorite foods from Italian to Asian to Mexican dishes and find a way to make them healthy," Silva said. "The way I do it is I start with the best recipe, then I source the ingredients so they are low-fat, carbohydrate-free, low-calorie and fresh."
While Muscle Maker Grill is a growing franchise, Silva knows that his business must not lose sight of its roots during that growth. One way Silva does this is by incorporating customer feedback into the company's future plans.
"The store I created was based off ideas from customers I interacted with," Silva said. "Today, we have a very open kitchen and we try to make it interactive. Our model is to always be current with the needs of people and adaptable to what people want."
While the above factors differentiate Muscle Maker Grill, Silva understands that the success of his company is dependent upon something much simpler.Deerfield Beach, Fla. Muscle Maker Grill Credit: Muscle Maker Grill
"I think the reason for our success is that we are a real common-sense place," Silva said. "If you tell the average consumer that our food tastes great, it is better for you than the competition, it is priced right and it is convenient, then that’s a winner. Those things are all things that stop people from eating healthy, so if you can give people the flavors they like, the price they want to pay and the convenience they want, that is attractive."
Not surprisingly, when it comes to advice about starting a business Silva suggests entrepreneurs begin following their passions above all else.
"You need to love what you do, believe in what you do, and do it the best you can," Silva said. "If you are always looking around you will never run your race and you are always going to be second-guessing yourself. Keep your head down, do the best you can, believe in yourself and you will always end up on top."