What do you get when you cross Cyclone, a gladiator from the 1990s TV series “American Gladiator,” with a fitness aficionado? The answer is simple: double fudge brownies, moist muffins and delectable lemon poppyseed cookies.
At first glance, it may seem odd that two men whose lives revolved around fitness would get into the baked goods business. Yet they’re not selling just ordinary treats. These are Muscle Brownies, Muscle Muffins and Complete Cookies.
Barry Turner (aka Cyclone), who lives in Hermosa Beach, is CEO and co-founder of Lenny and Larry’s, a producer of high-protein baked goods for the past 15 years.
The Northridge-based company set out to be the first to sell protein-packed baked goods rather than standard fitness bars.
“My original partner [Benny Graham] and I started with no baking experience,” Turner said. “We just had a plan. We did have a background in bodybuilding and nutrition, since we were dieting for contests. We knew we weren’t bakers, so we found people who could formulate for us, and it just happened from there in my kitchen in Marina del Rey.”
They create the recipes by working backward in research and development. “We actually call them formulas,” Turner said. “I come up with what I feel would be a great-tasting and great-selling product. Then I determine what I want the protein, calories, etc. to be. From there, I start [research and development] to come up with the items.”
The name Lenny and Larry’s is made up; it just sounds sort of like the co-founders’ names: Benny and Barry.
“The company name was just a play on our names — and one we think is funny,” Turner said.
After seven years of working together, Graham and Turner sold the company to Don Crouch, 61, whom they’d met through mutual friends; Crouch is a lifelong resident of the San Fernando Valley and lives in Encino.
Then, in 2007, Turner bought back half of the company, and now has a new collaborator in Crouch in upgrading the products.
“We always say your snack should taste better than the package it comes in,” Crouch said. Their baked goods are available in more than 40 retail outlets, from Ralphs to Whole Foods to Gold’s Gym.
They appeal to all types of diets. FIT Brownies, for example, taste like a standard brownie but are all-natural, high-fiber, gluten-free, kosher, low-sugar, low-glycemic index and high in protein, but with no soy, sucralose or sugar alcohols.
Turner and Crouch say they want to change the conversation when it comes to healthy eating, to show people it’s possible to create a product that tastes good and isn’t junk food — a difficult balance in the world of snacks.
Turner, an athlete since childhood, believes that being on “American Gladiators,” the series that pitted amateur athletes against each other and the show’s “gladiators,” set his life on the path of fitness advocate.
“Next to my children being born, being chosen as an American Gladiator was the highlight of my life. I was already obsessed with working out and being healthy before ‘American Gladiators.’ Being called Cyclone was just the icing on the cake,” said Turner, who appeared on the show’s 1992-1993 season. “From a 15-year-old picking up weights for the first time after a baseball accident that rendered me deaf in one ear, I was determined to succeed in the sports arena. What better way than being selected as an American Gladiator … the hottest show on television at that time. Working out, to me, made eating healthy easy.”
Crouch said Judaism and family have always played an important role in his life. He and his eldest son, Tony, who also works for Lenny and Larry’s, both attend Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Villge, and both had their bar mitzvahs there. Crouch’s younger son, Aaron, had his bar mitzvah at Stephen S. Wise Temple.
Turner and Crouch also believe tzedakah is an important part of functioning within the community at large, and it’s incorporated into Lenny and Larry’s business model.
“We believe that giving to our military is our No. 1 priority,” Crouch said. “Why? It’s simple — they sacrifice everything so we can do what we do. We give back by shipping brownies and cookies to our servicemen and servicewomen stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are the real heroes in this world. We also send care packages each Christmas to needy military families.”
The company also donates to Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a charity that aims to find a cure for childhood cancer, as well as to Challenge Aspen, an organization that provides recreational, educational and cultural experiences for people with disabilities — including activities like skiing and snowboarding.
“We hope to bring something to people in the fitness world and make that world accessible to everyone,” Crouch said.
They even take special orders, although they’ve occasionally had to turn down some over-the-top requests.
“The oddest request we ever had at work was being asked to make brownies with marijuana,” Turner said. “We said ‘no’ after we got off the floor from laughing so hard.”
Their primary goal it to stay true to their health-based motivation: “It’s sometimes difficult, but we are steadfast in not compromising our beliefs,” Turner said. “We could easily take shortcuts and just add sucralose and sugar alcohols to all items and our sales would quadruple, but we had a vision and we continue with that vision. There are no shortcuts in life or business.”