Overweight and underemployed as a construction worker in 2009, Brad Gruno knew he needed to make a change. Soon after his doctor prescribed Lipitor to control Gruno's cholesterol, he switched to a raw food diet. Now, he's 40 pounds lighter and CEO of Brad's Raw Chips, a dehydrated vegetable product that boasts $2 million in sales per year and is sold in more than 500 retailers. Here's how he turned greens into green.

Why did you switch to a raw diet?
In 2009, I was 40 pounds overweight and my cholesterol levels were through the roof. But even my doctor telling me that I needed medication for it wasn't enough to make me realize I needed to change my eating habits. I had never heard of a raw diet until my aunt invited our family over for a raw meal—and the food was good. She also gave me a DVD called Eating, which was about obesity, diabetes, and the connection to one's diet. I decided to go raw the very next day.

How did the concept of Brad's Raw Chips come about?
When I went on the raw diet I was eating nothing but salads and green smoothies, because it is a plant-based diet: fruit, veggies, nuts, seeds. I got tired of eating the same thing all the time and wanted to add some crunch back into my diet. So, I decided to put my veggies and seeds in the food processor, and then I dehydrated them to create a chip.

How did you get your first customers?
I got my first buyer simply by walking into small, independently owned stores that had a focus on natural products, asking to talk to the owner or manager and convincing that person to sell my chips. Persistence was the key to getting into stores. It took me eight months to get into my first Whole Foods store, and I probably made 100 phone calls to accomplish that.

What was your marketing and advertising plans?
The plan was to have me personally get out there and get people trying my chips. I wanted to be able to tell people about them, interact and explain why raw foods are better for you. So, the focus was on samplings and getting people talking about us, spreading our name through word-of-mouth.

What are the most important lessons you've learned over the last two years?
From the business aspect of the beginnings at Brad's Raw Foods, the lesson I would share is to hire a business firm to raise capital because that takes a lot of energy and there are professionals out there who can help expedite the process. On a personal note, lesson No. 1 is not to lose faith when you hit rock bottom. See it as an opportunity to re-invent yourself and follow what you are passionate about. You also have to take care of yourself. I see a lot of people medicate and eat unhealthy when times are tough, and you need to put yourself first.

What were your mistakes?
I would say my biggest mistake was in terms of funding. I wish I hired a professional to put a business plan together for me because I had never raised capital before and I think that could have helped me get funding for the business to help us grow in the beginning.

What are you plans for the future?
I have two books coming out about following a raw food diet. I want to take the idea of eating raw foods global and get more Americans eating raw foods because they are better for you. I want to be able to share my experience of not only how changing to a raw diet has affected my life, but also my experience in business. I want to be an example to other small business owners proving to them that hard work, persistence and passion can pay off, even today.

Published on: Jan 18, 2012