GENEVA — Dan Wise stood Thursday among the large crowd celebrating the new home for the prepared-meal delivery company he founded five years ago and took a moment to ponder his good fortune.
“I could never have imagined this in a million years,” Wise said of what has transpired with RealEats.
The company, which began with modest beginnings in what was new community kitchen space at the Geneva Enterprise Development Center, has evolved from a private company with 35 employees just a few years ago to 160 workers at RealEats’ new home — a renovated, 80,000-square-foot space in the town that was once home to Cheribundi. Before that, it was a Tops Friendly Markets store.
The company’s rapid growth since its 2017 beginnings meant a continual need for more space at the GEDC. Last year, the company, looking to ramp up production to meet growing customer demand — including a partnership with GNC to offer meals on its website — was ready to make that happen at the GEDC, and spend $1.9 million to renovate that space.
However, the opportunity to move to the vacated Cheribundi spot was too good to pass up, Wise said, explaining it allows the company even greater expansion and the opportunity for even more jobs.
“It’s amazing space,” said Wise after the ribbon-cutting, which included state and local officials, including state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. “This is a place to scale from. We’re going to keep growing.”
The process of moving manufacturing operations from the city to the town location took months to accomplish he said, adding that it did so while continuing to produce meals for its growing customer base.
“We’re proud of this moment,” he said.
Wise recalled at the podium how he became connected with county and city officials when looking for a place to start RealEats, with New York City his original plan. His concept: a company that would produce healthy vacuum-packed prepared meals that can be heated in boiling water or microwave and delivered to the home.
However, after touring the area with officials that included former Geneva City Manager Matt Horn and former state Sen. Mike Nozzolio, Wise was convinced Geneva was the place to make his business concept reality.
Then there was the city’s location in the heart of one of New York’s most productive and diverse agricultural regions, along with the food science expertise at Cornell AgriTech.
“I was stunned by the progressiveness of the upstate region,” Wise told the crowd.
Of course, to grow a company, you need money, and Wise noted how important access to capital has been to RealEats.
One of RealEats’ biggest scores stood out — that being the $1 million grand-prize winner in the inaugural Grow-NY business competition in 2019.
“We got lucky,” he said. “Real lucky.”
Wise said that win was a catalyst for even more investments, including the state retirement fund, which is managed by the state Comptroller’s Office. The agency provided $7.8 million to RealEats in five separate investments through its partners, Armory Square Ventures and Hamilton Lane.
Wise made a point Thursday of praising Nozzolio, whom he met five years ago and who is a member of the RealEats advisory board. He called him “a force of nature.”
In turn, the former state senator lauded the business acumen of Wise.
“Dan Wise possesses the important attributes of a successful entrepreneur,” Nozzolio said, including “enormous personal drive.”
It was Wise who brought in RealEats President Erik Battes, a Michelin star chef in New York City for 17 years, to the company two years ago.
“I was looking for a new opportunity and was introduced to Dan though Armory Square Ventures,” he said. “It has been one of the most challenging, rewarding and meaningful things I’ve ever done.”
When Battes tasted the RealEats meals, he came away impressed with how well the company was doing with what he believed was food that needed improvement.
“I can make this better,” is what Battes said, and he added that’s why Wise wanted him to join RealEats.
The product is better, he said, but RealEats will continue to look for ways to create even tastier meals.
“It’s my job as a chef to never be satisfied with our product,” he said.