Going From Big Pharma To Farm-Fresh

By Suzette Parmley The Philadelphia Inquirer

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) This story takes a look at entrepreneur Deb Lutz who left her high paying job at Johnson and Johnson to become a franchise owner of a healthy, fast-casual restaurant called "B.Good." As you will see, the motivation for opening the eatery goes far beyond the desire to be her own boss. The Philadelphia Inquirer

Deb Lutz was making a high-six-figure salary at Johnson & Johnson as vice president of marketing just three years ago.

But her entrepreneurial spirit (she bought and sold professional baseball cards to help pay her way through Wharton undergrad, Class of 1991) and her other life as a foodie got the best of her.

She ditched corporate America and went for a fresh start.

Two years ago, at age 45, she opened a b.good franchise -- a healthy, fast-casual restaurant that serves in-house-ground burgers, vegetable/fruit smoothies, and other fresh dishes in Marlton.

She opened two more in Mount Laurel and Wynnewood over the last year, and a fourth last week at the King of Prussia Town Center. The four restaurants employ 85.

Lutz's involvement in b.good and the healthy food movement is also deeply personal, and grew out of the challenges of caring for her daughter.

Isabel Lutz was diagnosed five months after birth with Prader-Willi syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects one in 12,000 newborns.

Prader-Willi syndrome, PWS for short, is named after Swiss pediatricians Andrea Prader and Heinrich Willi, who first diagnosed it in 1956.

Those with the disease exhibit an insatiable appetite and can literally eat themselves to death.

"They eat nonstop. At a buffet, they'll keep going," Lutz said. "The regulator in the brain that tells you when you're full is basically broken."

Lutz and husband Rob, who co-enrolled with her as one of three married couples in the MBA program at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in 1995, reconfigured the kitchen in their Bryn Mawr home. All of the food and a refrigerator were behind a locked pantry door. This started when Isabel was 2.

"We did what we had to, to keep her safe," said Rob, 47, a pharmaceutical executive who serves on the board of the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association, which increases public awareness of the disease. "We understand as a family when she's not being supported, it could lead to health problems."

Isabel, now a healthy 5-foot-4, 135-pound teen, remains on a very restricted diet. She is never left home alone for extended periods, and is always monitored when at other people's homes or in public.

"The most important thing was always having a game plan before entering a food situation," Deb Lutz said, "whether that was a birthday party, restaurant, or school function, and coordinating with all of Isabel's caregivers. It definitely continues today and will for the rest of her life."

Lutz said that opening b.good gives Isabel and others like her an option. About 95 percent of b.good's menu can be made gluten-free, and offers several vegetarian and vegan dishes.

The food is fresh, organic, and nutritious, and can be enjoyed simply for flavor or tailored to an individual's health needs.

The restaurant concept caught her eye during a franchisee convention in New York in 2013.

It was there that she met the two boyhood friends behind b.good: Jon Olinto and Anthony Achil, who started the concept in Boston in 2003.

Lutz said she was sold after reviewing about 50 other concepts. She bought the exclusive rights to franchise b.good in the Philadelphia area.

She remains the only female b.good franchisee, and her franchise is the fastest growing.

Last Tuesday, about 170 people filled the new KOP Town Center b.good by 1 p.m.

Cofounder Achil came down from New England for lunch.

"It's been great," said an elated Lutz, who was clad in jeans and a "real. food. fast. b.good" short-sleeve T-shirt, a far cry from her days in designer power suits. "It's early, but both the crew and the reception have exceeded expectations."

Isabel came that night for dinner and to lend support to her mother. Lutz holds fund-raisers on behalf of those with the disease and is part of a local support group of mothers with children with PWS.

"It's important to create broader awareness of the disorder since so few have heard of it," she said, "and have greater sympathy for the complexity of issues associated with it."

Among franchise owners of all types in the United States, Lutz is among the less than 21 percent who are women, according to data compiled by the International Franchising Association.

"I had a wonderful corporate career for 20 years," Lutz said. "But the higher I got, the more disillusioned I became. It got to be too bureaucratic."

Now instead of leading PowerPoint presentations on Tylenol's market penetration, she has found her true calling.

"I was looking for something I could feel good about that met [Isabel's] dietary needs," Lutz said. "It does not have preservatives. B.good takes an authentic, whole approach, and the two founders behind it are authentic people. This was not another big franchise, but felt different."

Experts say b.good is arriving at a time when restaurants and consumers are trending healthier and such phrases as "farm to table" and "fast casual" are marketing slogans.

On Tuesday, Domino's Pizza announced that it was adding salads to its menu. Earlier this year, Saladworks unveiled a new redesign targeting millennials.

David Orkin, restaurant practice leader for the Americas at commercial real estate firm CBRE Inc., said the so-called healthy segment is the fastest growing in the restaurant business.

"Consumers are eating healthier because they are better informed, and they have the options today that didn't exist as recently as 10 years ago," he said. "B.good is definitely part of a trend we are seeing nationally. It started with millennials recognizing it in fast casual restaurants, and the boomers requiring it in polished, casual restaurants. Now, the customer knows the information is available, and they want to see where the food is coming from."

A burger at b.good costs $7.49; a smoothie, $5.99; fries, $2.99; and side veggies, $4.59. A top seller is the Spicy Avocado & Lime Kale and Grain Bowl for $9.59.

The franchise is competing with Honeygrow, Saladworks, and Sweetgreen, as well as Wegman's, Panera, and Chipotle, for the healthy meal dollar. (Sweetgreen will open at King of Prussia Mall later this month, its fifth location in the state.)

Lutz is eyeing Center City and University City for her next b.good.

"You know the trend is there when places like McDonald's and Wawa are serving kale and quinoa," she said. "There's room for many more b.good's in the Philly area."

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