YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – For Gino West, healthful eating is both a lifestyle and a livelihood.
The Youngstown resident has put his passion – and his training as a dietitian and chef – to work in his business, Prepped Wellness.
He founded the food service six years ago and it has been steadily growing. West and his staff now provide weekly meals for about 250 private customers. He also has launched a catering service and Prepped Wellness Café, both at 901 Elm St. on Youngstown’s north side.
West prepares his prepackaged meals in the commercial kitchen at the café, making sure each one is tasty and uniquely flavored.
West wasn’t always a healthful eater. In fact, his business stemmed from his efforts to take control of his weight problem – and he now wants to help others do the same.
“It has been an evolution from my own life,” he says. “I was a child of obesity.”
He grew up in an Italian family where food played an oversized role. Surrounded by so much good food, he overate.
“Food is Italian, food is love,” he says, recalling those days. “But I kept getting bigger. I weighed 350 pounds in high school.”
As he entered college at Youngstown State University, another family member with a weight problem sought bariatric surgery to shed pounds.
West didn’t want to do anything so drastic.
“Something snapped within me and I decided I could do this on my own,” he says. “That’s the day I started my health and wellness phase.”
West dropped 150 pounds in a year and a half just by changing his diet.
After finishing his music degree, he went back to YSU to study dietetics.
Then he combined that knowledge with his culinary background – which he learned from taking classes and from family members – to start his unusual business. As someone who overcame a weight problem, he knew just how to help others.
“People have so many issues and insecurities on how to start and then maintain a healthy lifestyle,” he said. “They don’t know where to start, so I decided to do it for them.”
He launched Prepped Wellness in 2016 as a service that helped clients get healthy without the effort of cooking.
West would go to his clients’ homes with groceries and cook up enough meals for a week.
When the travel and workload got to be too much, he changed his business plan, doing all cooking in one location and employing delivery drivers to get it to customers.
He moved into his current building three years ago and opened the café last year.
“It gives the business a face,” he says. “People come in to pick up their meals, or they sit down and grab a wrap or a bowl,” he said.
Like his prepared meals, every item on the menu at the café is low in calories but high in tastiness.
“I have always been sick of the weird perception that healthy food has to be bland,” he says.
West devises all of his dishes, often fusing Asian, Brazilian or Italian styles into his dishes.
Prepped Wellness prepared meals can be purchased at the cafe or through his website.
The meals are not sold in stores, although West does operate a grab-and-go cafe at the Molinaro Health and Training Center in New Castle, Pa.
Pictured: Chef-owner Gino West in the kitchen at Prepped Wellness in Youngstown.