From shiny rats to hungry dogs and feather-weight astronauts to a Guatemalan infant -- a serial entrepreneur is born.
Twenty-five-year Martinez resident Bob Fritz, 61, has long since graduated from his fourth-grade fascination with a group of rats that thrived on a peanut/milk mix, while their counterparts withered on a diet of only hulls.
He's no longer a kid feeding eggs to his German shepherd, "Big Boy," and causing his mother to "die a thousand deaths" by partaking of every experimental buffet with the family pet.
And Muscle Milk, the ready-to-drink protein supplement he trademarked in 1999 and sold to Benicia-based CytoSport in 2003 (Hormel recently bought it, paying $450 million), is -- he claims -- like everything he's created: a product hiding in plain sight.
Or, a product about to be hiding in plain sight. Because, like the Caveman Diet, an admittedly controversial "paleo diet" he invented that sends shivers up the spines of investors and young 20-something adults with disposable income, Fritz is one step ahead of the mad-for-muscle crowd.
Surprisingly -- and most charmingly -- Fritz is driven by a noncommercial engine. It's not cash that clangs in his heart, it's caring.
"Every product I've ever done has been for me or my family or my animals. My wife is the one who said, 'You should commercialize this,'" he says.
Fritz grew up in a military family, going from town to town. Fascinated with nature, from the Greeks to John Muir, he often pondered the pictures of landscapes in people's homes, or their vacation destinations, wondering about human connection to the beautiful outdoors.
He skipped school, battled an addiction to food -- at one time ballooning from his slim, approximately 170-pound profile to 340 pounds -- and landed a job at NASA. He ran real-time computer simulations for the early Shuttle program by day: did gut-busting endurance workouts by night. Noticing research involving astronauts' diets, he began experimenting with amino acids and their impact on physical performance.
"I took 200 in a day. Everything came from nature, from plants, animals and humans. I didn't get ill and I didn't die off as a species," he recalls.
He met his wife, Carla, while enjoying a fish dinner at a neighbor's home. Six months later, they were married. Fritz says he was a loner, happily spending time with his own thoughts and never expecting to marry.
"It was a thunderstruck situation," he says.
Adopting a child was no different. The couple flew to Guatemala under duress, one week after another American, walking with her adopted child, was beaten to death. Native Guatemalans had falsely thought the woman was adopting the child for body parts.
"We went on the teeth of that," Fritz remembers. "We went to the hotel and it was like a lateral football handoff. It was otherworldly."
The baby, Daniel, had open sores, but didn't cry. Back at home, the pediatrician cautioned them, using the words "impairment" and "challenging," which Fritz says he interpreted as "lots of problems."
Determined to provide his son with super nutrition and already following research done at Harvard and other institutions, Fritz began taking fractions out of proteins. He designed a supplement to mimic mother's breast milk. Reconstituting the no-flavor powder, he shared it with friends, drank it himself.
Recovery from his and their "workout-until-you-blackout" weightlifting sessions was rapid; performance improvements were significant. His son grew, thriving on the drink Fritz says is simply a replication of evolution.
Taking his pitch for "Mother's Milk" to the trademark office, he was denied. He changed the name to "Muscle Milk," received a patent and pitched a business proposal to a sport nutrition company. They told him it was the worst idea and they hated the name. He tried another company: they didn't even return his phone calls.
But CytoSport, a company skilled at flavoring, said his mother's milk lent itself to tasting good. Even so, sales of the chocolate, banana and other fruit-flavored drink were initially slow and product development experts told Fritz it was too high fat and he'd "lost his fastball."
Fritz says, "I never listened."
Today, having launched and sold Amino 1000, Carboplex, Creatine 1500, Muscle N2itro, Cytomax, Metabolol, Muscle Milk, The Caveman Diet and their offshoot products, Fritz is the proud papa of a 6-foot, 2-inch sophomore accounting major at Loyola Marymount. Daniel, a former De La Salle basketball player, his father says, "is buff" and shares his "train until you lose a limb" ethos.
Inevitably, the man who sees ideas "hiding in plain sight" is rolling out his next creations.
Re-Nature/Animal Naturals products are performance foods and supplements for dogs, cats and horses.
EVO, the un-supplement, is a line of products designed to improve cardiovascular capacity, post-workout protein synthesis and sleep.
"They're unflavored, unsweetened, un-everything," he says, about EVO supplements. "Think of them as smart bombs that go directly to the metabolic pathway. It's the opposite of supplements that are about flavor, taste, and color."
You can look at the 450 big reasons Hormel now owns a piece of the Fritz brain trust, Google "The Caveman Diet," or simply step into the forward-thrusting breeze of Bob Fritz and ride with the in-plain-sight answer.