Sometimes the best inventions are born out of necessity. Fitness guru Lily Wentz searched the shelves for an energy boost packing both pure ingredients and taste, but her hunt always came up short. After much experimentation in her Huntington Beach kitchen, she nailed it with Lily's Lean Machines. These protein-dense, gluten-free, "whey better" bites deliver on all of the above and more, and they're hardly going unnoticed (or uneaten).
An HB resident of nearly two years, the Rancho Cucamonga native worked at an investment firm for 15 years while teaching spinning and running marathons on the side. Various athletic accolades adorn her downtown HB home, which is the birthplace of her Lean Machines. Mixing her love of sweets, whey protein and raw, organic ingredients into each morsel, she created a product that tastes naughty but does the body "whey" good. Popping Lean Machines pre- and post-workouts, Wentz and her equally athletic husband shared their fuel with friends, who urged Wentz to take her goodies to the next level.
"This kind of turned into my little pet project," says Wentz of her early Lean Machines days. "Some of our friends tried it and were like, 'You need to sell this.'" With that much needed nudge, she quit her job to chase her dream in April 2013.
Focusing on expanding her line of healthy energy and protein supplements, Wentz developed over 10 different flavors of bites, including peanut butter and jelly (think mini PB&J sammies without bread), peanut butter chocolate chip, crazy coconut and almond blueberry. Her love affair with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups inspired her protein peanut butter and protein almond butter cups. "I would die without peanut butter," she admits. We completely understand.
Starting with 100 percent whey protein isolate, Wentz blends in other nutritious ingredients like gluten-free rolled oats, organic coconut oil, organic ground chia seeds, organic ground flaxseed, raw organic blue agave, fine macaroon coconut and organic dried wild blueberries. She even whips up truffles and brownies for the sweetest of teeth and happily welcomes custom orders. All bites can be made vegan too, and a full list of ingredients and nutritional information is slapped on every package.
"It's just me," Wentz says of her multi-step operation, noting a long list of duties, including hand-making every bite; creating, printing and affixing labels; hand-delivering orders; fulfilling Internet sales; managing social media; and manning her e-commerce website. Luckily, her husband has been very supportive of her venture. "I barely sleep," she says, adding, "If I get five, that's a good night."
As an athlete and health-conscious consumer, Wentz pays special attention to delivering a balance of protein, carbs and fat. "You need all three to complete a meal," she advises, adding that she uses all complex carbs and essential fats in her treats.
With an arsenal of healthy protein bites and a dream much bigger than her pint-sized frame, Wentz walked into every local health food market in hopes that they would taste the difference. They did. Her bites can be found in Jan's Health Bar in both HB and Costa Mesa; select Nekter Juice Bar locations, including downtown HB and Costa Mesa; as well as at the Newport Beach Farmers' Market—where she actually got her start. Soon every Nekter in the country will stock her bites—that's nearly two dozen in Southern California, four in Arizona and one in Texas.
The expansion news times perfectly with the company's one-year anniversary this month, which coincides with the opening of a new Lean Machines commercial kitchen in Sun Valley as well as the addition of a two new sets of helping hands. "Now I'm expanding faster than I can keep up," says Wentz, who refuses to sacrifice quality as her business grows. She describes her success as "bittersweet."
Once the Nekter project finds its groove, Wentz's aim will shift to slinging her bites at Mother's Market, Whole Foods and running expos. While her target audience is obviously those who live an active lifestyle, she has also built a solid customer base of people on-the-go and mothers searching for a quick, healthy snack for both themselves and their little ones. She often tells moms, "If you're going to have cupcakes for your kids, think of me."
The fact that Wentz can run a marathon in 4.5 hours serves as proof enough of her relentless drive, spirit and passion for life. Having sampled many of her treats—the texture of the rolled oats, the crunch of the nuts and the hint of coconut oil—we advise bellies near and far to do the same. Says Wentz, "It's exciting because it's this little idea I had and now it's coming to fruition."
And in case you could not decide, yes, she looks just like her adorable Lean Machines caricature.