Healthy decisions, convenient solutions: Friends collaborate to impact women, families
Story by Hannah Ballenger
Photos by Jennifer Sherwood and contributed
Friends Whittney Bennich and Emily Norris joined together to make something for everyone with their businesses Fit Chic and Southern Fried Skinny in Hartselle February 2021. Both with their own specialty and expertise, these ladies became acquainted through Fit Chic, which Whittney started in 2015 and immediately connected as friends which quickly developed into a major collaboration.
These are two businesses that operate in conjunction with one another to provide different services with the same goal: to guide and support others to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Both businesses work to be as accessible and accommodating as possible with no monthly or weekly drafted payments or contract. Fit Chic maintains a month-to-month membership providing a schedule of 45-minute workout classes available and Southern Fried Skinny operates week to week with an evolving menu to provide healthy eating options to individuals or to families.
Prior to Fit Chic, Whittney had always enjoyed safe outdoor workouts in a ladies-only atmosphere. Seven years ago, she held her very first class.
“My first class I had 25 ladies; at that point, I knew this is exactly what the community needs,” Whittney said. She never imagined she would still be doing this seven years later.
To Whittney, Fit Chic is not just a typical gym, and she doesn’t operate it as such.
“Fit Chic not only provides a safe place for women of the community to workout but also to have a sense of belonging and builds friendship, confidence and encourages a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “It’s a place to blow off steam away from home and work and to be around like-minded ladies.”
Once the monthly schedule is published, members sign up for their classes online. Whittney and her team work fulltime jobs outside of Fit Chic; so, they keep the schedule accommodating to women who work or those who have husbands who work that you might need to be home to watch the kids while you go work out.
With nine trainers, Fit Chic is able to provide a wide variety of classes and services including personal training, group fitness, nutrition, pound fitness, behavior change modification, online coaching, yoga, barre and corrective exercise.
“We like to switch up every session, so our ladies don’t get tired of the same routine, she said. “Some days, we may meet indoors and use our equipment and other days we use body weight outside or picnic tables at the park.”
Whittney said the most important thing in working towards a healthier lifestyle is to be consistent and don’t get frustrated.
“Workout even when you don’t want to,” Whittney said. “It’s not an all or nothing lifestyle. Still enjoy all the things you love in moderation. When you fall, get back up, because we all fall. That is the biggest piece of advice, we all fall. We aren’t always going to be 100 percent. Try and keep trying. Find a support group that will cheer you on and hold you accountable.”
Fit Chic and Southern Fried Skinny have helped a lot of people to find that support system they needed, and they hope to continue to do so.
“It’s a close tie,” Whitney said. “I absolutely love seeing ladies succeed and strive to do the best for their health. But the lifetime friendships that are made within the group is pretty amazing.”
Whitney said when she and Emily met seven years ago, they instantly became best friends and when Emily was ready to look for an industrial kitchen to kick off Southern Fried Skinny in an official capacity, they knew it was the perfect collaboration and found a great spot for both of them.
Southern Fried Skinny
Emily had joined Fit Chic early on and was working fulltime in an office where she had started meal prep for herself and her husband. Her friends had noticed her meals and, before long, she was meal-prepping for them too.
“Thus, Southern Fried Skinny was born,” she said.
After about two weeks of cooking for strangers, Emily realized this was an exciting new way that she could help people. She formed the LLC and began to spread the word operating via Facebook at the time and through word of mouth.
Emily said Fit Chic was already up and operating at full force when she realized it was no longer a small group she was fixing cooking for. She had upgraded to a rented food truck, but by 2021 – four years in the business – she had outgrown that and knew it was time to move to a facility.
It was at this point she and Whittney had discussed the idea of running in conjunction with each other and sharing some overhead costs.
“We dove in and haven’t looked back,” Emily said.
What started as a hobby and a favor to a few friends has become a business providing snacks, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even bulk family meals. Just like any facility in the food industry, Emily has inspections from the health department. There is an upwards of 500 servings a week leaving her kitchen at Southern Fried Skinny.
Emily works hard to provide a variety of pre-portioned, ready-made meals using healthy substitutions, helping to provide the community with options for healthier eating. Each meal has nutritional value labels with an expiration date for each meal with microwave or oven safe packaging and heating instructions.
On average, Emily and her mother-in-law, Keli, who is her only employee, serves about 70 different households per month; some customers order every single week, some sporadically. Emily always tries to change up her menu, but she said they maintain a particularly long list of what her customers like and dislike.
“Since SFS is a weekly program and I do not require any commitments, my customers sometimes skip a week here and there,” she said. “I have a good number of customers who eat low carb so that makes a big difference in what I need to offer to reach the most people.”
Many of Emily’s recipes come from her many cookbooks or Pinterest and other social media sites, but she always tries to put her own twist on things. She frequently utilizes her husband as a taste tester before putting anything new to the weekly menus.
“I’ve taken online nutrition courses since starting just to better educate myself,” she continued. “I watch lots of videos and am always learning new things. I think the only person on my team that has special training is my CPA. She helps with spreadsheets, all my numbers, even packing for deliveries on Saturday.”
Growth has also happened for Emily, she has expanded her pick-up locations to Priceville, Madison, Athens and Decatur for her customer convenience.
Emily said she never imagined SFS would be what it is today.
“I never even imagined being a small business owner in the first place,” Emily said. “I joke that this all happened to me by accident but it’s true. I have blood sweat and tears in the business and most of the time when I reflect on what I’ve worked to create, I’m proud to have built this from scratch.”
For anyone new to the SFS family Emily encourages them to be patient.
“It’s going to take a week or two to adjust your eating habits and retrain your stomach on what a portion looks like and how it feels,” she said. “It also takes time getting away from overly processed foods. 99% of what I’m sending out every week are whole foods.”
Emily loves what SFS has done for her not just for her health but as a connection to the community.
“The people I get to meet and hearing about the positive ways prepped food helps them is my favorite aspect of the business,” Emily said. “I love to help other people and this is another avenue for me to do that. I’ve met wonderful people and made amazing friends just through feeding people.”
Essentially Fit Chic and SFS are two separate businesses that cohabitate in a mutual atmosphere and love for promoting and helping to provide the opportunity of healthy lifestyles, but to Whittney and Emily their collaboration was not just for their finances but to provide a unique experience for their clientele, a hub that can provide multiple services with the same goals in mind. Their goal of providing direction and affordable options that no other facility can provide is something they continue to strive for and improve. When one is asked about the other, they know the ins and outs of one another and can help guide someone striving to do better for themselves to a point of loving themselves and having a support system that becomes like family.