COOKEVILLE – When one door closes, another door opens. While Westside Deli may have shuttered its North Cedar Avenue shop to everyday clientele, the building will soon see new life. A start-up business looking to expand with its offering of healthy meal options for families on-the-go is moving in.
Thomas Cox, founder and owner of Mealfit, a Paleo/primal-based meal planning service that started in mid-2013, will be renting and re-branding the space.
Cox hopes the central, downtown location – he’ll be expanding from a commercial kitchen space in Dodson Branch – will allow Mealfit to increase in the catering space. There’s even tentative plans, he said, to one day open the building back up for lunch, giving those on-the-go a healthy and easy meal option.
“My whole goal with this (business) is to keep families out of the drive-thru,” Cox told the UCBJ. “We try to take traditional foods that are ‘unhealthy’ and give them a healthy spin, from lasagna to cheeseburgers to fajitas. I’m excited. Having an actual place in the middle of town where people can go and see our logo and the name, it will be a big asset to our company.”
Cox started Mealfit not long after leaving his post as an assistant football coach at Tennessee Tech – he felt driven, he said, to make a change. A CrossFitter since 2010, he was always interested in the nutritional aspect of the fitness program, made famous in part by Rich Froning, a Cookeville native who won four consecutive CrossFit Games. While working part time with Life Church in Cookeville, he was asked to craft a meal plan for a friend. “Pretty soon,” he said, “I had people sending me checks in the mail for the meal plans, and it grew and grew.” That was mid-2013. He started full-time in the business last January.
Currently, the company serves more than 100 clients and more than a dozen gyms via its online menu-planning option, which ranges between $40-100 a month and offers recipes and shopping lists for breakfast, snacks and dinner. There’s also Mealfit Ready, or ready-made dinners that are cooked and packaged for local pick up. That service, which costs between $10-11 per serving, recently peaked at 50 families and averages between 30-40 each week.
Cox said Mealfit’s new space will allow them to do more catering – right now, they serve pharmaceutical lunches, church events and more.
He is also exploring the possibility of opening the North Cedar Avenue shop back up for lunch. Plans are still in the very early stages there, and no timeline has been set, but Mealfit could provide healthy grab-and-go options, much like Salads & More did before it closed its doors on Proffitt Street last year.
“We want something with healthy options for the downtown market,” he said. “It’s coming, we just don’t have an exact idea when. The one thing I don’t want to do is get overwhelmed with business to where I can’t do a good job. I’m telling people everything is going to work just like it has been for a little bit and then possibly we’ll add to it as we go.”
As far as catering goes, that, too, is a renewed focus for Westside Deli, the New York sandwich shop that closed its doors to the public Saturday. The Deli will also be using the space for that purpose, and owner Jay Albrecht and chef Chad Combs said they’ll expand to offer private fine-dining, a multi-course plated meals, full buffets, or sandwich trays. Cox said the two businesses will not be competing – in essence, they offer two entirely different menu options. But he does see it as a chance to learn.
“Chad’s an accomplished chef, and to have him as a mentor as far as learning more about the whole business is an amazing thing,” he said. “He is a chef that operates at a high level, and I’m a meal planner – I think if we combine the two, he can teach me some things, I think it would be very beneficial.”
Mealfit will officially launch at its new location the first week of April. The building will soon be branded with the Mealfit name. More will be announced in the coming weeks and months.
“I’m very, very excited about it,” Cox added. “I’ve already got drawings of what I want to do, and we’re pretty excited about the way it’s going to look. We want to make sure people know who we are. I think it will help us businesswise, but I also think it will be a deal where we can expand into other things.”