Born in Denmark, Flemming Madsen, CEO and Co-Founder of Delicious Raw, spent the early part of his career in accounting, investment banking and equity research. In 2004, however, Madsen felt a strong pull in the direction of entrepreneurship and left the safety and security of his well-established career to follow his dreams.
“I took a hard look at where I was and where I wanted to be,” he said. “I started to consider all my options. I decided to resign to focus all my efforts on something new.”
That something new was a private equity fund that invested in young and emerging fashion brands in the Northern European fashion industry. According to Madsen, the creatives fueling the new trends had the vision, but not the business and management chops needed to succeed. The goal of the fund was to “scoop up” promising and emerging fashion brands and give them the support to grow and eventually be acquired by a bigger brand. Unfortunately, the timing was off. Because of the Great Recession in 2008, the fund never gained traction which left Madsen at a pivotal crossroad in his journey.
“My wife and I started vacationing in Naples, FL, around 1994,” Madsen said. “We were on one of our vacations in 2009 when the idea to move and either buy or start a new business came up. On the last day of our vacation, we ate at this little café and that was it. We bought the business. We hadn’t even moved yet. We went back to Denmark, packed up our stuff and moved to Naples a month later. Most of our colleagues thought we were mad. It was definitely a major change, but we saw an opportunity and we took it.”
Despite not having any experience owning or running a restaurant, Madsen did have plenty of experience in investment banking and private equity. In terms of organizing and structuring a business, he certainly had an advantage. He and his wife were also determined to make it work. From day one, they approached everything from the customer’s standpoint.
“Every decision was focused on what’s best for the customer,” Madsen said. “What would we appreciate if we were the customers? That was and continues to be a key component of our success. Just because you don’t have 20 years’ experience in an industry doesn’t mean you can’t be successful in that industry.”
After several years, the café started to gain some serious traction and became a popular destination in Naples for breakfast and lunch. Along the way, Madsen introduced non-traditional menu items. As he shared, the café and the introduction of light, easy and health-oriented food options was a precursor for Delicious Raw.
“It was a great opportunity to test certain products,” Madsen said. “Because of the tremendously positive response to these items, we decided to start the process of creating a new concept. In 2013, I partnered with a friend, who also lived in Naples, to create Delicious Raw. We spent nearly a year creating a menu that was transparent, healthy, filling and delicious. We also put a lot of energy into the physical space. We wanted a warm and inviting place that appealed to a broader market, not just those people who were already eating healthy. The food scene in Denmark is inventive and cutting edge, but it’s also very social. Going out and eating with friends, family and colleagues is a big deal. We wanted to create that same experience with Delicious Raw.”
From building a team to adding food options, Madsen faced a number of challenges as the concept took root and increased demand warranted investing in additional locations.
“Staffing is such a crucial component,” he said. “Strong leadership helps to build a company that provides long-term opportunities for its employees. Maintaining that long-term perspective was important as we grew our team. Other challenges included learning how to maintain 40 different types of produce and ingredients that were all perishable. Streamlining that part of the business was another key component of our success.”
Madsen continued, “After a couple years, there was a growing demand for food options. We initially went down the path of ‘grab and go’ type food. We hired a development chef and utilized a commissary kitchen for food preparation. We quickly realized, however, that our ‘grab and go’ food offerings were really no different than similar options at grocery stores. At that point, we did a complete 180 and decided to focus on a scratch-made food menu. We looked at what high-end restaurants did to captivate their customers. That’s the experience we wanted. We started to make our own pastas, sauces, marinades, burger patties and bread. The final product was unique, sophisticated and not something you’d typically find in a place like this.”
By 2015, Madsen added three additional locations in Naples. In 2016, he expanded to the southeast coast of Florida. By the end of 2018, Delicious Raw had a total of seven locations. According to Madsen, the Davie store, located west of Fort Lauderdale, represented a true ‘tipping point’ for the company.
“That store performed way better than anything we experienced in Naples,” he said. “That’s really when our decision to expand beyond the Naples area was solidified. Next up was the Sunset Harbor area of Miami Beach which really became the brand’s flagship. Based on demographics and the right mix of young folks and those willing to prioritize this type of food, we’ll decide on where to expand to next. Fortunately, more and more people are considering plant-based diets.”
For Madsen, who loves the creativity, agility and flexibility that comes with being an entrepreneur, the future of Delicious Raw looks bright. He’s focused on creating long-term customer relationships and teams that grow with the company. He’s also focused on expansion – including the potential to bring the Delicious Raw concept to other states.
What advice does Madsen have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “As an entrepreneur, you need to have staying power,” he said. “Most things don’t happen as quickly as you want them to happen. You have to be willing to keep working hard to make things happen. When we bought the café it was a huge risk, but we were committed for the long term. Also, think about what makes your product authentic, what your core competencies are and how you differentiate yourself. Ultimately, if you dream about it, you should do it. You only live once. The worst thing that can happen is you fail, but at least you’ll learn from your mistakes.”