Name: Gator Nutrition
Address: 342 Beverly Court, Spring Hill
Phone: (352) 684-2323
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Before organics became all the rage, Chris Ruppe had already discovered the unbelievable benefits of a healthier lifestyle. After losing nearly 30 pounds since college, Ruppe is now a lot smaller than he used to be. His new body and mind weren’t the main reason he opened Gator Nutrition in Hernando County 15 years ago. But it certainly helps deliver the message that better food in equals a better, healthier body out. The biggest prompter for Gator Nutrition, through, was his entrepreneurial spirit and a passion to work for himself. “I’m the best boss I’ve ever had,” Ruppe said with a chuckle. Evidently, Ruppe found his secret to a balanced life. There is a clear pep in his step, an almost rhythmic way he glides between the aisles of his very well-stocked, comfortable store on Beverly Court, just off Commercial Way. He stocks nearly everything, from organic supplements, beauty care, pet foods, and supplements to frozen foods and meats. The idea, he said, is to build a better lifestyle from the inside out. In 15 years, Ruppe has seen fluctuations in customer trends. And he has observed and listened intently, his best technique for building his inventory. “If the customer wants something, I get them what they want.” And he can turn around and sell the products cheaper than his competitors because his business model is different. “We don’t have any employees,” he said. “I pretty much run things myself.” Ruppe co-owns the store with his wife, Kristie, a well-respected defense attorney in private practice, and receives a much needed reprieve from his father, Ron, who helps out at least one day a week. But for the most part, Ruppe runs things himself, from ordering to stocking to taking care of his customers. And he does it with a continuous smile, engaging in comfortable conversation about health topics, their families, or hanging Christmas lights. He makes a point to remember special details and often greets customers by their first name. Business would certainly be better if the economy was better, he admitted. But Gator Nutrition has held its own through three moves, all within the same block near County Line Road. Organics are a little more expensive, he said. But the benefits are becoming better known. Most of his customers are already well-informed on the topics of better health. Others have a basic idea based on what they’ve heard or a new ailment they are suffering. While he never gives medical advice, Ruppe does offer his suggestions in terms of how he has managed to change his own habits for the better. It is a lifestyle he adopted for his entire family. The biggest culprit in modern diets, Ruppe said, is fake food. “We used to eat real food,” he pointed out, like cheese and butter. But the warnings to stay away from those foods launched the creation of substitutions that turned out to be more harmful. “It’s those versions that are loaded with hormones and antibiotics and pesticides,” he said. “If they’re grown clean, your body can process them.” Most of his customers are looking for preventative methods to avoid health issues later. “One of the best things about a place like this is you prevent from getting sick in the first place. It costs money to keep from getting sick.” But the costs are much cheaper than healing the illness later. “I always tell people; better food first,” Ruppe said. “Once they start eating better foods, a lot of the problems go away.” But convenience and price are strong motivators for choosing processed or fast foods rather than going back to sensible food preparation and simple healthy choices. More people would be onboard, Ruppe believes, if they understood how they would actually save money in the long run. And there are creative techniques to eating healthier on a budget just by knowing what to buy and where. With organics, it’s best to start with meats and dairy items, he said. Fruits and vegetables can be purchased at farmers markets at a fraction of the price sold in supermarkets. Once the decision is made though, and good results are experienced, habits can change. Like one loyal visitor to Gator Nutrition who adds flax seed to her smoothies every morning to combat hot flashes associated with menopause. The customer, who asked not to be identified, swears by the trick, noting nothing else has worked as effectively. Spring Hill residents Frank and Pat Morgillo visit Gator Nutrition about once a month for specialty juices and supplements. The store is friendly, Frank said, with good prices. “It’s very helpful,” he added. Pat liked the selection, especially on specialty items like gluten free products that she stocks when her daughter visits. Helping his customers get what they need plays a big part in why Ruppe loves what he does so much, especially when he can sell it to them for less. “They save money so they can buy more of what they need.” While he had no background in health stores other than a year working for GNC, starting Gator Nutrition from scratch seemed like the right path. Through hands-on trial and error, and his degree in business management from the University of Florida, Ruppe has built a solid foundation. Fifteen years later, he still loves going to work every day. Of course it helps that he decorated the store in his favorite team colors. “You might not realize what you’re supposed to be doing with your life until you’ve done it for awhile,” Ruppe said. “I realize this is what I’m supposed to be doing.” Gator Nutrition is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Kim Dame is a correspondent for Hernando Today. She can be reached at Damewrites@yahoo.com.