Adam Friden’s July CEO Note

Greetings fellow Fit Fam,

   The struggle has never been anymore real than what our company has weathered over the last several months! This is now the third CEO note I have drafted from home, rather than the office, as like many of you, I have spent the last few months working from home and social distancing. I usually take this monthly opportunity to share updates, or my take on things, but I thought I would use this opportunity to take us down memory lane…

Catered Fit was founded in 2010, and throughout the course of our ten year history we have experienced more than our fair share of trials, tribulations and downright WTF moments. For the most part, I have written most of these off as “par for the course”.  If you want to build a national brand you have to be prepared for a steady stream of bumps and bruises so we don’t often talk about them because “so what” anyone playing the game at high level has “been there and done that”. However, with everything going on in the world, with small (and large) businesses struggling to make it through these unprecedented and unpredictable times, I thought it would be a good time share some of our historical highlights (lowlights actually) as a reminder that even though we’ve never lived through anything like this, we will all make it through. 

Before I share what has taken place in our facilities over the past four months (holy 💩 that’s a lot of quarantine) let’s first go back to early 2011… Our service had just begun to take off and it came to light that the man we were subletting our kitchen from, had a sinister plan to burn down the facility because he felt he had been wronged by the landlord. If he was successful, our young company would not have survived. I flew into action, had the locks changed, contacted the landlord, and when the potential-arsonist showed up, the police were called and he was barred from the property… This bought us just enough time for eviction papers to be served to our sublessor and Catered Fit lived to fight another day.

Since our first brush with disaster there have been a plethora of other near disastrous experiences that now I look back at with complete awe at our ability to overcome. Shortly after the “arson incident” the landlord (whose property I had just saved!) gave us an ultimatum with a 48-hour expiration. Catered Fit could either sign a $14,000 monthly lease (which was impossible for us back then) or  we could be evicted. Once again, when met with a threat and a time crunch- the universe was on our side. One of our purveyors overhead the predicament and told me about a building that was up for lease. It was previously occupied by a catering company so it was outfitted with just what we needed! The landlord was leery to write a lease to a company no one had heard of, to a kid who had no commercial credit history, but we pulled it off.
Or the “Great Kitchen Blackout” that occurred when an eighteen wheel car-carrier accidentally tore down our entire electrical grid. You probably already know this, but electricity is pretty important when cooking, especially if you want to see what you are doing! My small team rallied and pulled off the incredible feat. At which point we cooked in the sweltering heat (we are in South Florida) with nothing other than our ovens and some construction lights we connected to a small generator! All I can say is thank god for gas stoves!! 

Those are just a few of the anecdotes I now tell over drinks about how Catered Fit has climbed this mountain… until 2020. Oh boy, were we not prepared for 2020. (Was anyone?) We didn’t get to ring in the new year. Literally no ringing. At the start of the year, the company that had been hosting our VOIP phone service for a decade had a complete server meltdown. The phone number that customers and potential customers would call was just floating out in the internet black hole, calls coming in would just go nowhere. This went on for two weeks! Our phone number was trapped in cyberspace for TWO WEEKS right when everyone was going all in on healthy eating and New Year’s resolutions. Again, our incredible team from Customer Service to IT jumped in setting up alternative numbers, following up from their cell phones as we fought to get everything back on track. Little did we know there was nothing about 2020 that would be “on track”! 

Enter COVID-19. On day one of the shutdowns I sent home our entire sales, customer service, IT and marketing staff to work remote. Of course we like to consider everyone “essential” but in the age of COVID-19, the only essential employees allowed on site are the ones there to make sure meals are prepared and make it to your door. Over the course of the first month of quarantine we saw the impact all across the industry. Farms we were doing business with closed down over night because their clients were cancelling orders, and they no longer had enough business to sustain their workforce. As you can imagine, finding a new source capable of delivering thousands of pounds of produce daily at prices that fit our members budgets is a tall ask. This wasn’t just limited to farms, many vendors, including one of our meat purveyors began shutting down due to the virus. Week after week for the first 8+ weeks of quarantine we had to make tough decisions about whether or not to buy products below our normal standards or alternatives that met our standards, but hurt our pockets. It wasn’t a tough decision at all. Making no money, but great food,  became the sexiest option 2020 had to offer. That is how through all of this, we have been able to deliver a consistent, delicious and high quality product. 

At the beginning of last month, we began to exhale. PSYCH! Just as we thought we could take our first breath, the real nightmare began. The virus that had been primarily known from tv and was spreading like wildfire in our neighborhoods and before you know it, I was hearing from friends and family who were sick. From day one we agreed to take a “zero tolerance” policy as it related to our team’s health. Our position was, and still is, if you have so much as a headache or hangnail stay home!  If you know someone close to you who has any symptoms you stay home for two weeks! If you have been around anyone that has since become ill you stay home! We made it clear to our staff that they would be paid for their sick leave which made it very easy for anyone that was remotely at risk to do the right thing and stay home. The first few months of the outbreak this meant very little because virtually no one within Catered Fit got sick. Once June rolled around and the public returned to business as usual (many without masks) suddenly the number of quarantined staffers spiked. Under normal circumstances sending any one, two, three or even four people home for a couple weeks wouldn’t affect production because we had a large staff that is always ready to scale and adapt. We are designed to thrive under “ohhh circumstances”. This time was like nothing we had to overcome before. Our quaranTEAM has been incredible at pulling together, we were able to find some skilled labor to fill in some holes, and we continue to produce and deliver the freshest, healthiest and safest prepared meals on the market. 

    With everything going on, why did I think this was worth sharing? For a couple of reasons. Firstly to serve as a reminder that humans are resilient, that businesses CAN bounce back, and that in times of crisis having a strong team and an innovative vision can power you through. Secondly, because in the last month as I’ve seen first had these numbers skyrocket in our communities, I am begging all of you who have taken your invaluable time to read this letter to PLEASE wear a mask in public, practice social distancing and avoid crowds for just a little while longer. The pain we have felt thus far will pale in comparison to the pain we will feel if we cannot slow down the spread of this virus. We love you from the bottom of our hearts and relish the day when this is all officially in the rear view. Until then, stay safe and sanitized🙏🏼

Health is Wealth

Adam Friden

Books I’m reading: The entire Malcolm Gladwell collection

What I’m watching: all 9 seasons of “Building off the grid”

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