Keep The Pizza, Slice The Carbs

Many of us can agree: pizza makes life better. When Mario Salazar switched to the ketogenic diet to maintain a healthier lifestyle, he knew that pizza was the one high-carb food he was not willing to compromise on. His solution? Mario founded Attain Foods with a mission to make delicious low-carb alternatives to high-carb favorites. Attain Foods is slicing their way into the market with the launch of his Kizza, or keto-pizza as a menu special at Union Kitchen stores. 

Mario hasn’t always been in the food industry. In fact, Mario spent 12 years in political consulting after getting his bachelor of science from Cornell University and his master of liberal arts, extension studies, and strategic management from Harvard University.

Working long nights and eating unhealthy meals during his time in consulting left Mario prediabetic, overweight, and with rising blood pressure. Inspired to change and regain control over his health, he tried and found success on the keto diet. It wasn’t long before Mario realized that adhering to the strict low-carb rules of the keto diet was a pain point in and of itself--he had to give up all kinds of delicious foods like pasta, cereal, and other grain-based foods.

Unwilling to give up his childhood favorite, pizza, Mario spent hours trying to find the perfect low-carb recipe. The recipe he landed on was delicious but laborious to make. It usually took more than an hour! He knew that he wasn’t the only person who couldn’t afford an hour a day to cook a delicious, yet keto-friendly pizza meal.  It was then that Mario realized he was onto something.

While pursuing his MBA at Duke Fuqua School of Business, Mario decided to commercialize his keto pizza, or as he calls it, Kizza. The Kizza isn’t like any other pizza--it boasts only 5 total carbs and a whopping 72 grams of protein for the whole pie. How does he do it? His KetDough of course! We can’t give away too much, but Mario managed to develop a delicious low-carb crust consisting of chicken, eggs, and parmesan cheese. He tops his KetDough with his special low-carb tomato sauce, more cheese, and a variety of keto-friendly toppings. 

The path to starting and launching a food business hasn’t been without its challenges, though. To start, Mario remarked, “going into it, I just simply didn’t know what I didn’t know.” He adds that joining Union Kitchen’s Accelerator program was immensely helpful in filling in the knowledge gaps to help get his idea to market. 

Further, Mario learned several lessons about manufacturing rather quickly during the research and development process. The most important lesson? Don’t be afraid of manufacturing, or in his case, the commercial-sized mixers in the kitchen

Mario jokes, “for the first three months for some reason the commercial mixers were really intimidating and freaked me out, so I was mixing everything by hand.” When he took the leap to mechanizing his manufacturing, he realized that mixing all of his ingredients by hand took five times longer than using an electric mixer. A process that formerly took an hour now only took about 5 minutes. Not surprisingly, this discovery helped make his production process noticeably more efficient. 

Mario’s challenges during the research and development process reflect the importance of owning and understanding your manufacturing. Not only does it continue to provide him with agility and a competitive edge, it also enables him to intimately understand the process of making his product. No one starts as an expert. It does not matter if you’ve spent a lifetime manufacturing or just starting like Mario. Everyone has the capability to be a great manufacturer with the right mindset and focus, and it all begins with learning your manufacturing process firsthand. 

Mario’s advice to others like him who had a great idea, but no experience in the food industry? Acknowledge the gaps in your knowledge and seek assistance from programs like Union Kitchen’s Accelerator that prop you up and set you up for success by filling the knowledge gaps.  

With the first product of many to come now officially out on the market, Mario is excited for what’s in store for Attain Foods. Mario plans to launch his three additional flavors  of packaged frozen Kizzas next month but for now he is excited to have his cheese Kizza as a menu special at Union Kitchen stores starting May 1.