One of the challenges when opening a new business in Santa Clarita is finding a strategy that resonates with the public and sets you apart from your competitors. From the idea phase through customer service and expansion, there’s always something to learn from someone who’s been down that road before. Matt Peyton of EVERPREP meal preparation company sat down with Amanda Benson-Tilch, host of The Ask Amanda Show to share his entrepreneurial journey as he described the ups and downs of establishing his successful Santa Clarita business.
Find Your Company’s Mission
From a storefront in Valencia, EVERPREP has found a customer base for a meal preparation service stocked with wholesome foods to promote a healthy lifestyle for local residents. Identifying a need in the marketplace and designing a solution is a winning combination, especially when it’s the founder’s personal passion.
“My own health story goes back 10-plus years ago,” Matt said. “I was incredibly unhealthy. We were a two-income household with small kids, super busy. There was lots of fast food in our life at the time. Chasing my son around the backyard one day, I had to stop and sit down. I was short of breath, and I was getting lightheaded, and I just decided this is not how this is going to go. That was sort of the beginning of my health journey. I quit smoking and started eating better.”
Matt’s desire was to offer an alternative to the attractiveness of the fast-food culture. It partly involved recognizing the convenience and the addictive, unhealthy ingredients fast food restaurants use.
“When you’re feeling better, when you’re in good health you can show up for your family in ways that you can’t when you’re not,” he said. “It’s really, truly one of the missions of the restaurant. I don’t know that any of us is going to add a day to our lives, but we’re going to feel a lot better and be able to do things that we want to be able to do.”
Other factors fueling his motivation to launch EVERPREP was the evidence throughout the pandemic of the number of health issues tied directly to diet.
“You can walk into EVERPREP and get a meal for less than you’re going to pay for your burger combo,” he said. “You’re going to eat food that you know is clean – whole, fresh ingredients, nothing is processed, low sodium, low sugar. We use all of our own organic seasonings, and we make our own sauces, and we make our own marinades. If you’re interested in knowing exactly where your calories and your macros come in for the meal that you built for yourself, you can go online and do that.”
Matt’s goal is “to beat the fast-food guys at their own game and make it just as convenient and even less expensive.”
His ideas began to percolate when he saw how difficult it was to do meal prep at home. He figured there’s got to be a better way to make healthy eating convenient, affordable, and accessible.
“When you’re starting a business, you’ve got to be smart enough to know what you don’t know and recognize and rely on experts where it makes sense to do that,” Matt said. “We resourced a Consulting Group comprised of a number of chefs to develop a menu that would ensure that the food is delicious, craveable, and something that people want to come back to every week, but still delivers on those things that are most important to us.”
Amanda was struck by his clear vision and courage to follow through.
“You truly are an entrepreneur, because you’re not a chef and you opened up a restaurant,” Amanda said. “I know people who are personal trainers, and their goal is to open a gym, but they know nothing about running a business. You have so much experience as an executive in a retail chain. Everything you learned you were able to apply to this business model. It’s also your passion and your need – to live healthier. You combined those two and you made this great business, but also being able to take the risk to do it – that’s truly what an entrepreneur is.”
Matt recommends seeking help for the parts of the business you don’t know. “It’s cheap insurance, if you think about it. It’s way more expensive getting it wrong,” he said. “I sort of came to it backwards, because I do have a history in an executive role for a sizable retailer, a national footprint, multiple billion dollars, but I did not have that restaurant background – other than I love food and I want to eat healthy.”
Do Your Research
During the COVID-19 pandemic there were many Americans who realized it was a good time to launch a small business involving meal preparation. Because those stories were out there, Matt felt it was important to find a unique business model, improving on the rank-and-file concepts of other companies.
EVERPREP established a clean and simple process:
- Fresh food
- Cooked on site
- Refrigerated for pickup
- Pick your protein
- Pick your starches
- Pick your vegetables
- Pick your toppings
- Pick your sauces
- No minimums
- No subscriptions
“We’re trying to differentiate ourselves from all of the other meal prep companies out there,” Matt said. “In doing our market research we found that people shy away from meal prep companies because of the commitment you have to make through subscription.”
Building your own meal combination is one of EVERPREP’s main features. Customers build all their meals exactly to their calorie and macronutrient goals.
“There are a lot of prep companies out there who use words like ‘macros smart’ or ‘calorie smart,’ but everybody’s different,” Matt said. “Everybody’s lean body mass is different. Everybody’s activity level is different. So, the calories that you need, the macro nutrients that you need are going to be specific to you. What we’re trying to offer is 100% customization.”
Sometimes subscription meal prep plans make you decide whether to choose the meat option or the vegetarian – you can’t get a combination.
“We offer a tremendous amount of variety,” he said. “Chicken comes in six flavors. We continue to get hounded by customers to jar the sauces, so I think that’s the next thing. One guy told me he would put the soy miso on his shoe and eat it. The sauces really are the sort of the MVP for a lot of people.”
Getting people in the door for the first time is one thing, but they return because of the service.
“One of the things that you don’t get with most of these other meal prep companies is that it’s not personal,” Matt said. “It’s between you and their website or the app. One of the things we talk about all the time is we really want to be relational.”
When you walk into a fast food or fast casual restaurant such as Chipotle, they ask what you want. “But we want to understand why you’re there,” he said. “Are you just looking to be a little bit healthier? Or are you looking to lose weight? Are you looking to gain weight or are you looking to maintain? Do you have some health issues in terms of your blood pressure or other things? What’s brought you in and how can we be a part of helping you get to the solution that you’re looking for?”
Choose Your Venue
There are many reasons a local business may want to consider opening a storefront:
- Customers love it
- They can see the products
- They have a hands-on experience
- They can weigh the food
- The smell can get public attention
- Customers know the breadth of options
- They recognize the convenience
- They can get comfortable with the business
- It’s easy to order online and grab their bag from the refrigerator
- Easy to-go food, on their way to work, camping, etc.
Matt chose the location because it was a drivable distance. His family didn’t have to move.
“We looked across this larger geographic area and actually drew circles around the intersections that we thought we wanted to be in,” he said.
A hot tip Matt shared about doing research for a venue – take advantage of work that others have already done. For EVERPREP he looked at places where there were Chic-fil-A restaurants. “These guys have done their homework,” he said. “They’ve got a sizable real estate team that I don’t have – let me learn from them.”
Matt and his team liked the demographics in Valencia. “There’s no community like Santa Clarita in terms of checking all those boxes – the family community in which people are very committed to health,” he said. “Just look at all the gyms, all the different sports leagues, the paseos. This is a community that is about being active and healthy and living that healthy lifestyle. Busy, two-income households where their time is of the essence – they don’t have a lot of it. They want to be able to eat well and they want to be able to take care of their kids.”
Develop Your Brand
“We also worked with a branding organization to help us really bring the brand to life,” he said. “What’s really tricky is we wanted to make sure that the branding and what we represented to the customer was polished enough that it lent us the credibility we needed to recognize we weren’t just trying to figure this out or shooting from the hip.”
Though creating a company brand that looks professional sets it up nicely to begin franchising, it was important to Matt that EVERPREP was represented as a local company.
“We’re still a community business, and Santa Clarita – like no other – supports their community businesses,” he said. “This is a place where people really do get behind and want to support small business in the community.”
Matt has advice for business owners when consulting with a branding company.
“Working with the branding organization to help bring that vision to life was incredibly valuable,” he said. “But I was incredibly hands-on and directive about what we were trying to convey, what we wanted the customer to experience, and how we wanted to be seen.”
The experience can cut both ways, he said.
“You’ve also got to be careful because if you’re going to hire experts and then tell them what to do, you’re just lighting money on fire,” he said. “It’s important to recognize what that expertise is that you’ve paid for. Ensure they’re not running away with it, and it becomes something that’s very different than what you want to create.”
Marketing the Business
Matt regrets some of his marketing choices before opening the doors of EVERPREP.
“We did marketing, but probably not nearly aggressive enough and not in the right places,” he said.
He thinks they would have benefitted from promoting the business in venues such as gyms and health fairs. “Getting in front of people who are thinking about that commitment to their health,” he said. “You can fish in the ocean, or you can fish in the fully stocked pond. You can throw your advertisement out there on Instagram to the world at large, and maybe you convince some of them that meal prep is an option for them right now, but many are scrolling right past. You’re trying to communicate to the masses when there might be a smaller audience that has any real sort of interest.”
When using platforms such as Instagram you’re reaching wide and deep instead of targeted.
“Likes and followers and all those things don’t necessarily translate to sales,” Matt said.
EVERPREP is marketing to people who are meal prepping themselves, telling them, “We’re going to give you your Sunday back,” he said. “Go enjoy your family and just swing through and pick up your bag when you’re ready.”
He thought it would be a faster process marketing through social media and digital channels, but found they needed “boots on the ground,” connecting in the community, which takes time.
Matt came from a background including the operational process and implementation in stores on a large scale. Looking forward for himself, or tips if you’re opening a small business, include focusing on the following issues:
- the ability to execute efficiently
- the ability to keep costs in check
- the ability to make sure they offer a relational experience
- the training that needs to happen
- the marketing – how to get the message out
At this point, EVERPREP is a family business. Whether or not they expand, and it becomes a chain restaurant, remains to be seen.
“There’s a handful of different approaches,” Matt said. “There is the ‘slow and steady wins the race,’ self-funded way. We’re completely self-funded to this point. It’s a long-term commitment to get there, but you maintain 100% ownership which has tremendous value, being able to make everyday decisions that are focused not on a shareholder or an investor’s payback. You can take on angel investors or capital in a number of different ways and grow much faster, but now you’re beholden in some ways to those investors. There’s always franchising, which is a whole other thing.”
Meet the Experts
Matt Peyton – Founder, EVERPREP
Matt Peyton’s personal health journey led him to realize the Santa Clarita business community needed a meal service company that supported residents who were short on time but wanted to maintain a healthy balance. EVERPREP is breaking all the rules to disrupt the meal prep industry. With a restaurant storefront you can visit, and same day pickup or delivery, the company provides completely custom meal prep with no minimums, no subscriptions, and no advanced ordering required. Matt is committed to providing clean, whole, fresh ingredients and unparalleled customization and convenience. “We’re here to help people eat well and live well.”
EVERPREP is located at 24339 Magic Mountain Pkwy in the Target shopping center between Big 5 Sporting Goods and Big Chicken. You can visit the company online at Everprepmeals.com or find Matt on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.
Amanda Benson-Tilch – Small Business Consulting
While you may notice her first by her wit and second by her infectious sense of humor, the next thing you’ll learn about Amanda Benson-Tilch is: She’s a problem-solver. Owner and Growth Strategist of Ask Amanda Consulting, she offers the skills, tools, and network it takes to get the job done — no matter the task.
Working with each client differently, she helps identify blocks, present solutions, implement them, and execute. And if she can’t execute, she’ll connect you to someone who can. She’s helped past clients improve their branding, operations, customer service, marketing, company culture, and more. She’s organized a company-wide rebranding and restructuring after it was bought out. And she’s helped local small businesses increase their growth without increasing the headache. From consulting to full-scale project management, Amanda steps in to help your business level up with ease.
In addition to her work with Ask Amanda, she’s also the Director of Business Development for Thomas Realty Co., a property management company in Burbank, where she oversees the growth of select tenants. Currently, she’s serving as the Managing Director of both Burbank Fitness Club and Burbank Center Apartments. Over the last year, she helped completely rebrand, renovate, and rebuild the gym, and she recently started the same process with their luxury apartments.
About The Ask Amanda Show
On any given day, small business owners and entrepreneurs spend most of their time putting out fires, solving problems and asking themselves questions like: “How do I brand this? How do I reach more people online? Why can’t I break through my revenue ceiling and reach the next level of business?” They often feel like an island – holding it all together without the support, clarity, or feedback they need to finally achieve their vision. That’s exactly why Amanda Benson-Tilch created the Ask Amanda Show. As a small business consultant, not only does she have the answers to the questions you keep asking, but she’s also created a podcast community that reminds you: You’re not alone in this journey.
Tune in once a month to get access to small business experts, nuggets of inspiration and answers to those burning questions preventing you from growth. Enjoy powerful guest interviews as Santa Clarita small business experts share their stories and provide actionable steps to help you grow your business. Whether you’re a business owner, aspiring entrepreneur, or someone looking to get more involved in your community, this is your show!