By GREGORY ZELLER //
It’s a chip off the old fitness-nutrition multimedia empire.
Great Neck-based Decision Nutrition, which husband-and-wife power duo Keren and Jonathan Gilbert have nurtured into a national healthy-living brand since launching in 2009, has spun off a new subsidiary based on its popular line of chia-seed bagels.
Chia Bagels and Chips Enterprises Inc. officially incorporated in January, founded by the Gilberts and partner Jon Doneson, a principal on the sales and consulting side of Island Park-based solar installer Innovate Energy Solutions.
“He’s the rainmaker,” Jonathan Gilbert said of the new partner, a family friend who actually helped usher Decision Nutrition into the healthy-bagel business in 2014 by introducing the Gilberts to Bohemia-based wholesaler Always Bagels.
“We’ve been utilizing his salesmanship and his large amount of connections,” Gilbert noted. “He casts a very wide net.”
January marked two years since a fateful dinner party at the Gilberts’ home, where talk turned to Decision Nutrition’s plans for healthy bagels made with chia seeds – a so-called “superfood” rich in fiber, protein, calcium and B vitamins, but low in fat and absent any cholesterol or sodium.
At the time, Decision Nutrition was already on its way to multimedia fame. Keren Gilbert, an NYU-trained nutritionist and registered dietician, had already created an increasingly popular diet plan, was well into her first book (“The HD Diet: Achieve Lifelong Weight Loss with Chia Seeds and Other Hydrophilic Foods,” which dropped in January 2015) and was rapidly developing a TV résumé that included guest shots on “Today” and “Access Hollywood.”
The bagel business would represent a whole new vertical. And with Doneson greasing the skids, the Gilberts were at a table with Always Bagel within days of the dinner party.
Doneson knew the Bohemia distributors through his solar work. He’d pitched them years earlier for a paneling project at their main facility, and while he didn’t land that job, “we became really almost like family,” the solar seller noted. “We moved forward with our friendship and other business relationships.”
The Always Bagel connection has helped build a chia bagel following around Long Island. Now, Chia Bagels and Chips Enterprises Inc. is beginning to move products to other states – including the new bagel chips, which add a little crunch to the healthy-bagel brand.
With eye-catching packaging by Massachusetts-based consumer-marketing firm Wright Design, the bagel chips are already featured in a number of regional chains and independent stores, including Holiday Farms markets in Roslyn Heights and Glen Head; Grace’s Marketplace stores in Greenvale and New York City; Roslyn Heights specialty shop Kitchen Kabaret; and the Long Island Bagel Café, which has eateries across the Island, Queens and Manhattan.
The chips have also made it as far as Scarsdale, where they’re featured by caterer/marketplace Standing Room Only, and North Carolina, where they’re on the shelves at Poppy’s Bagels & More in Charlotte, another of Doneson’s one-time solar consultations.
While the chips are available in just one flavor for now, variety is on the way. Doneson noted a menu of new tastes in the works, including wasabi, onion-and-garlic and honey-mustard chips, set to start rolling out over the next few months.
The new flavors, the health-conscious pitch, his wife’s growing fame and Doneson’s “relationships with potential customers around the country” have Gilbert thinking big about the new bagel-chip vertical.
“We’re going big or going home,” he told Innovate LI.
Doneson is also encouraged, especially with the solar business slowly coming down to earth. When he first got into the business about seven years ago, he noted, the government was “basically subsidizing the cost” of solar installations – as much as 90 percent, in some cases – and customers were lining up. Government subsidies are still available, but “it’s closer to 40 percent now,” Doneson said, with a proportionate dampening of customer enthusiasm.
Regional companies like Innovate Energy Solutions must also deal with a growing number of national competitors, he added, and winters are never great for the solar industry.
But there are still plenty of regional solar opportunities to go around: Only about 25,000 of Long Island’s roughly 1 million homes have solar systems, according to Doneson. And spring is on the way.
“I’m not a negative person,” Doneson noted. “I’m always positive about things.”
That includes chia seed bagel chips branded by an increasingly popular healthy-living empire, with current negotiations likely to create new availability – on Long Island and off – within the next few months.
“People have to eat,” Doneson said. “And if it’s a good product, a healthy product, they’re going to want to eat it.”