Bites and Basketball

I come from a big Italian family who have big Italian appetites. I grew up in a household with 3 other siblings and parents who did a phenomenal job with keeping our sports obligations met and our belly’s full.

My sport of choice was basketball from a very young age. Not just because I was a towering 5 feet tall in elementary school, but because my older brother played on the driveway and it was easy to join in. I remember the first game I ever played was in a CYO league at our church gym. It came so naturally to me as a 7 year old. Middle school ball was a whirlwind of year-round AAU, girls all-star leagues, even boys all-star leagues. These were the days of eating on the road, devouring food in the car, snacking on the court and just about anywhere I could! I had endless amounts of energy that was fueled mostly by Lunchables, potato chips and pizza. And Gatorade. Lots of Gatorade.

Eventually, it came time to start my career in high school at Archbishop John Carroll High School. My time in high school was spent preparing for my ultimate goal – to obtain a division 1 scholarship to play basketball. I studied hard, had a great social life, and had the best basketball career I could have asked for. My sophomore year being the highlight – we won a state title and had a dynamite AAU season losing only 6 games out of 58. In the busy lifestyle I had playing sports, my family always made time for Sunday night dinner at my Nana Yo’s house. We would eat as much ziti, meatballs and garlic bread as we could. I would literally eat until I felt sick, and then made sure to finish it off with a chocolate chip cookie. My siblings were also absolute savages when it came to snacks and food in the house. So bad that we would hide boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese from one another. My after school “snack” before practice was usually a pound of gnocchi and a bowl of cereal. This is how I ate at pretty much every meal, yet continued to be as skinny as a rail and have endless amount of energy.

Fast forward to my time in college at Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ. I landed a division 1 full scholarship and was starting as a freshman. I had a dining plan that allowed me to eat as much food as a I wanted, so I would be sure to take full advantage of that. My dining hall meals usually consisted of pasta, pizza, or bagels with a bowl of cereal for dessert. Locker room and bus food consisted of potato chips, Gushers, Chewy granola bars and Dunkaroos while post-game meals were usually penne alfredo, gnocchi, or lasagna. I truly ate anything I wanted and didn’t think twice.

My senior year, we got a new strength and conditioning coach, Coach Chip, who introduced the correlation between diet and my performance. I noticed as I was getting older my performance was plateauing and I found myself needing constant naps throughout the day. I couldn’t figure out what it was until Chip explained that it was my diet. I started journaling my meals and when I was eating, that alone was something very foreign to me. I started researching like crazy and I became pretty passionate and, quite frankly, obsessed about what the ultimate diet for athletes should be. I started introducing things like leafy greens, lean protein and portion control into my everyday diet. A lot of my inspiration and learnings came from the original Instagram fitness inspo-girl, Kayla Itsines. She has one of the biggest social media followings (currently over 9 million) and built the largest fitness community in the world (The BBG Community). She went on to develop Apple’s #1 fitness app, SWEAT, and is one of Forbes 2018 ‘Most Influential People on the Internet’. She, along with coach Chip, inspired me to switch to a whole food based diet – so what does that mean? I began to completely cut out processed food and eating only food on the outside of the grocery store (a tip for healthy grocery shopping). It was hard, almost like I had to train myself how to eat a completely different way. My new and improved diet made it challenging to grab-and-go healthy snacks when I was on the road or during a hectic day on campus as a student athlete. Some of the only grab-and-go bar options were Cliff Bar, Luna Bars and Power Bars – which are mostly filled with junk. I had to get creative with my snacks in a dorm room with no kitchen, so I researched some whole food, no-bake snack options. I started making these “protein bites” that my roommate and I LOVED. They were little no-bake bites consisting of nuts, oats, honey and flax seed that were absolutely addicting – the first flavor was peanut butter chocolate chip! We’d grab them and take them all over campus and on road trips to keep in the hotel rooms when we needed a healthy snack option. It was perfect because my goal was simply to know what I was putting into my body at all times.

After graduation, I landed a job as an assistant buyer for a major retail chain. The sedentary lifestyle of sitting all day made me crave exercise more than ever, especially after my competitive basketball career was over. So in my free time I studied to become a personal trainer and nutrition specialist through the American Council of Exercise. I started training clients after work and on weekends and it was the best side job because I was so passionate about helping others achieve their health and wellness goals. In May 2017, I made the switch from buying to media for my full-time job and was exposed to a new world in marketing. It wasn’t until my 25th birthday this past October, that I took a deep dive into thinking about what my long-term goals were with my career. My dad was the one who inspired me to start my own food company when he pointed out that my passion is in health and wellness. He simply said, “Why don’t you make some healthy shit and sell it” – ha! I had no idea what I would sell because my diet consisted of mostly whole foods, but then it came to me – my bites. They were different and I continued to make them because I can’t buy them anywhere. I went straight to an organic market the next day and started experimenting with every flavor I could think of. My co-workers, clients and family were my main taste testers to start out. I then started focus groups and gym demos to collect data to build a brand – from there, “Yomi Bites” was born! In November of 2017, I quit my full-time job and brought on my cousin Brooke as a co-founder. She brought expertise in the field with experience as a natural and organics buyer for a major grocery store chain.

The inception of our online website was February 1st, 2018, when we introduced with our 3 core flavors – Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Sea Salt and my personal favorite Lemon Poppy. We were then able to spread the word to stores and teams around the country. We’ve been fortunate enough to provide clean snack bites to fuel some of the biggest NFL, NHL and NBA teams as well as a handful of collegiate programs. It is fulfilling to know that the bites that started in my dorm room are now fueling some of the most elite athletes in the world. That alone has made this whole experience worth it to me. We also have exciting growth opportunities over the next couple of months to introduce our bites in a handful of local shops and universities.

If you are interested in following along our journey, follow us on Instagram @yomibites and go check out our website at yomibites.com!

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