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Scott's Protein Balls Are Rolling Along

Mon, 10/09/2023 - 15:06
A series of unfortunate events turned Lori and Scott Levine into "accidental entrepreneurs" as they transformed a snack he made for her into Scott's Protein Balls, a successful food business.
John Roca

If you've been out and about anywhere this year, you have probably noticed Scott's Protein Balls and the company founders, Scott and Lori Levine. The couple, who have a house in Sag Harbor, and their 3-year-old product have become fixtures on the South Fork through the many retail outlets that sell their snacks and the causes they have supported. 

With donations of profit and product, they supported Ellen's Run, Holiday House Hamptons (which benefits the Breast Cancer Research Foundation), Cancer Schmancer, H.M.I.'s Schools Out, and Rufus Wainwright's Montauk Lighthouse benefits. The Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation honored them at its annual party here.

If cancer seems to be a recurring theme, there is a reason for that. Ms. Levine was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer in 2017. Her path to recovery and health was made possible by research and support that some of the organizations named helped contribute to, and it also gave rise to the recipe that would change everything for the Levines and their family.

It started in 2017 when Ms. Levine went for an annual mammogram and sonogram. "I was shocked to learn after a biopsy that I had breast cancer. . . . I had no family history," she recalled last week. "My husband and I were boarding the plane to my son's graduation at the University of Michigan and it was my birthday. We made the decision not to tell anybody so we could celebrate the graduation . . . . I didn't know at the time if I was going to live or not live. It was the worst weekend of my life."

Through a new breakthrough in research at the time, Ms. Levine learned she did not have that great a chance of recurrence and was able to forego chemotherapy. That test, the development of which was supported by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, made her recovery after surgery and radiation much more targeted to her individual needs. The foundation's work, along with that of other groups that support breast cancer research, patients, and survivors "became near and dear to my heart," she said. That is why she, her husband, and their company support them.

But what led to the development of the proteins balls was a slightly different aspect of her recovery. "I decided to go to a nutritionist to get cleaner, greener. I realized when you're going through something like this, how out of control of your life you really are."

What she could control was what she ate and how she took care of her body. The nutritionist told her to take protein bars out of her diet. "I don't know about you, but everyone I know has one or two in their bag all the time." Although they are marketed as a healthy snack or meal on the go, the nutritionist said many have a lot of sugar,  preservatives, highly processed soy, chemicals "and things that you can't pronounce, and they sit on the shelf for a year."

Knowing she would miss the snack, Mr. Levine said to her " 'you've been through so much. I wasn't really able to help. I'm going to create something for you.' And that's what he did." 

Mr. Levine, who had always been "comfortable in the kitchen," combined a couple of recipes he found online to make the first flavor, peanut butter cacao protein. He was careful to use clean, vegan, and organic ingredients, with no gluten. As she went back to exercise classes and socializing, she shared the snack with people she knew. 

"Friends and family were leaving our house with big gallon-sized bags and joking around that we had to start a business," she recalled. "But Scott was commuting from Long Island to Manhattan three hours every day round trip, and I was recovering. We weren't starting a business." Both of them have a background in accounting and finance. 

The Covid-19 lockdowns were a turning point. "Everyone was home and everybody was freaked out," she said. That was when she decided they were going to roll the balls on a larger scale. "I ordered a ridiculous amount of 50 pound bags of ingredients. I ordered these gigantic chest freezers which are filling my house to this day. We rolled balls, and we made inventory." They started selling them through Facebook contacts, and as Covid subsided here, they found a store that would sell them.

Months passed, and one store became what are now 100 stores, which include locally: King Kullen, Citarella, Cromer's, Schiavoni's Market, Goldberg's Bagels, Golden Pear, and Provisions. But they also sell in Foodtown, Walmart, Amazon, and the three major metropolitan airports. A manufacturer on Long Island now puts out a variety of flavors (some nut-free) like brownie batter, mint chocolate chip, snickerdoodle, confetti, and pumpkin spice that they developed and keep developing.

In addition, Mr. Levine came up with his own proprietary protein powder to use in the recipes. He maintains a role as chief financial officer and advisor to the company, and since last year is also C.F.O. at Cresilon, a biotech firm in Brooklyn.

The balls require refrigeration to keep their shape and taste best that way, but they can be kept out for two days if needed. They are not inexpensive. A 20-count bag online is $29.99 or $1.50 per serving, but almond butter, oat flour, and organic ingredients like flaxseed, chia seeds, plant-based protein powder, agave, and vanilla extract do cost more. Each ball is around 70 to 80 calories. They can also be frozen.

Ms. Levine said that at first it was very hard to tell her story, or to hear someone refer to her as a cancer survivor. But part of her healing process has been to own it. "The thing that I'm most proud of is that Scott and I turned two negatives into a positive: a breast cancer journey coupled with Covid." She doesn't know where the business is headed next, but she feels "really good in my heart that I was able to teach my son . . . to keep moving forward and believe that good things can come out of bad things because they can, you just have to be open to it."

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