Shana Greenbaum, 34, was a searcher. The entrepreneur tried competitive ice skating, waiting on tables and hostessing, restaurant management, a bit of acting, and even bodybuilding before she founded her food delivery business four years ago.
Greenbaum’s Healthy Fresh Meals delivers more than 4,000 servings every week to around 500 customers — including health-conscious gym rats and a sprinkling of professional athletes — throughout the Washington-Baltimore market. The average meal is about $12.
The menu changes weekly. A recent week included several offerings, such as Thai coconut curry salmon for the average consumers or steak, sweet potato and broccoli for the athletic crowd.
“The food business suits me,” the businesswoman said. “We will see how this turns out after covid, but I own a building, I have a business and I am going to do something with it.”
Greenbaum’s staff cooks the meals and heat-seals them in recyclable trays designed to keep them fresh for a week with refrigeration. About 90 percent of the clients are households. Some buy an entire week’s worth of lunches and dinners that are delivered on Sunday by a small army of drivers. The rest of the orders go to businesses and are delivered on Monday. Customers pay a $10 delivery charge that covers all the meals for the week, whether it’s one or 50.
Greenbaum’s finances are solid.
The Washington native expects to gross somewhere north of $2 million this year, clearing a 10 percent-plus net profit and pocketing more than $100,000 for herself. The rest of the profit goes back into the business.
She keeps headcount low: Healthy Fresh Meals staffs about 25 people, including four full-time employees, a dozen kitchen staffers and more than 10 drivers.
Her only debt is the $700,000 mortgage on her Hyattsville kitchen/headquarters (including her beloved, $50,000 walk-in refrigerator). The monthly mortgage payment is less than what she was paying to lease space in a shared kitchen.
“I save money, and I earn equity in real estate,” she said.
As is common with most owners of small businesses, she does much of the work herself and occasionally enlists family and friends to help. Her husband, a staffer on Capitol Hill, created the sign that hangs next to the front door of her building. Her friend since childhood is her chief troubleshooter.
Healthy Fresh’s clients include the D.C. United soccer team, some National Football League players around the region and at least one local university. She is waiting to hear whether a big, health-oriented organization will become a client. If it pans out, the deal could add prestige and $500,000 a year in new orders.
Greenbaum is comfortable in the business world. Her late father’s family bought, renovated and flipped Washington residential real estate. Her mom helped homeschool her and encouraged her aspiration to be a competitive ice skater, which was sidelined with an injury at 17.
She isn’t afraid to try new things. While a student at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles, she introduced herself to some film production assistants. That led to a side hustle in films and commercials. She had very small parts as an extra in “Transformers 2” and Renee Zellweger’s “My One and Only.” She kept it up upon returning to the East Coast in 2006, even earning $4,000 for one week’s work.
The food business has been part of her life since she was 18 and tending bar at Guapo’s Mexican-themed chain. She spent 13 years, off and on including during college, helping a fellow bartender launch his own Tex-Mex restaurant group in Richmond called Chicken Fiesta.
“I did everything from cashier, cook, cleaning tables to handling marketing and customer service,” Greenbaum said. “I grew and managed their catering and scouted and helped open other locations.”
Ask anyone in the hospitality business, and they will tell you the work can be relentless and exhausting. Greenbaum’s “aha” moment came while eating in the kitchen of one of her friend’s Richmond restaurants.
It was time to reboot her life.
“I was tired of not being healthy,” she said. “I went to a gym. I started bodybuilding. I gave myself a goal of getting in shape in 16 weeks.”
Her mother, who also had been a bodybuilder, advised Shana to clean up her diet.
“Mom said, ‘You have to meal prep,’ ” Greenbaum recalls. The chefs at Chicken Fiesta taught her to make chicken, broccoli and rice. She ate the same thing every day for four months.
Meal prep business started trickling in. The restaurateur/boss asked Shana to make 14 meals a week for him. Then her aunt, who owns several restaurants herself, wanted in.
She quickly had about 10 clients that were ordering through emails and text messages.
“Random people actually started calling, and I said, ‘Oh my gosh. I have real customers.’ I didn’t know my capabilities, but I wanted to turn this into something.”
She charged $10 a meal and delivered most of them personally in her Hyundai Veloster hatchback. She soon moved to her parents’ home, where her mom sauteed peppers, her dad cut tomatoes, and her brother made kabobs, packaged and delivered.
“My family was part of my journey,” she said.
Launching Healthy Fresh Meals was an unglamorous grind.
Greenbaum built her own website and practices what she calls, “guerilla marketing”: cold-calling the front desks of gyms, fitness and supplement retailers, and even her best friend’s hairdressing salon, looking for new customers and posting flyers. She still invests hours at food festivals such as Taste of Arlington.
She scoured Google for food equipment and supplies.
“I can find anything through Google,” she said. “I would be a good private investigator.”
She gave a friend a free month of meals for helping her incorporate on LegalZoom.
Not everything went smoothly. It took some time to streamline food purchases and figure out how to cook only once a week and still keep the food fresh. She wasted $900 on a faulty machine that was supposed to automate her packaging. Not one to be wasteful, she paid a friend to seal the plastic trays she had purchased with a hot clothes iron until she found better machines.
By the end of 2016, she was delivering 400 meals a week and grossing $350,000 a year. That doubled the next year, and she is pushing above $2 million for 2020.
Competition in the meal business is fierce, especially with the coronavirus pandemic that has closed restaurants and kept diners home. But Greenbaum’s attention to costs and the bottom line could make her one of the survivors.
“I refuse to fail,” Greenbaum said.
But she is keeping her options open. “Even if this doesn’t work out, I have several other business ideas in the works.”