Robbie Mezanava, 30, was born and raised in Los Angeles.
A first generation Mexican-American, he grew up watching Rambo movies and was always interested in fighting for the military.
After high school, Robbie enlisted into the army in 2004. A big water polo player as well, he made the ultimate decision to join the military instead of pursuing the sport and a full ride scholarship to the University of Southern California.
First in the reserves for two and half year, he joined as a preventive dentistry specialist before going into active duty in Germany.
While in the Reserves, Robbie enrolled at Cerritos College in California and finished a dental hygienist program in June 2007.
“In Germany, I was a part of what was called a field dental unit. We would go set up shop and work on people all over. With that, I also got a chance to go to Kosovo to do humanitarian work,” he said. “After that, I reclassified and went into the infantry in 2009 at Fort Campbell.”
Robbie was deployed to Afghanistan in July of 2010 until May 2011.
“I got what I asked for, and I lost a good friend out there. War is not fun.”
Coming back from Germany to the U.S., Robbie went to Fort Benning in Georgia for training and was then stationed at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.
He left the army in 2011 and went into commercial diving in Thompson Falls, Montana just west of the Rocky Mountains. When his second child was born, he and his wife at the time decided to move to Nashville for a clean slate.
In 2014, he moved to the Nashville area and opened a gym in Hendersonville called FitForce.
Once out of the army, he thought he’d give professional fighting a shot. Robbie went 6-0 in MMA fights before turning his attention to his business and his family.
Opening in 2014, FitForce is a functional strength training gym.
Robbie adapted the model for his business after a successful friend who did the same in Los Angeles.
“The purpose of functional strength training, or cross training, is to make you in control of your body,” he said. “We’re not big on slinging heavy weights over our heads or anything like that, but we are big on core stability. We have a lot of people that come in with injuries and limitations, and we cater to everyone – all levels of fitness, all constraints, and instabilities.”
Robbie said to see people in gym transform into a healthier being is addicting.
“It’s a type of happiness. You want to help more people, and you want to see more people change for the better.”
It hasn’t been all fun though as Robbie has had his fair share of challenges when it comes to starting a business. He said the biggest thing he’s learned in the process is patience.
“It’s been a challenge establishing a business being an outsider and a transplant, but once the people of Nashville see who you are they open all the doors for you. It’s all about helping people. We grow by helping others.”
“A lot of times, people expect success right away, or they think that it’s easy. I’m still learning that everything comes through that trial and error system. I’ve tripped over a few big rocks, but I’ve learned from them,” he said.
Robbie said he’s not a “bible thumper,” but said he does believe God is behind everything he does.
“I always say God doesn’t help you directly. He always helps you through other people. Being an instrument of that takes you further than you think,” he said.
the CITY, the CULINARY ARTS
Robbie said he fell in love with Nashville for one reason: hospitality.
“Nashville just feels like home,” he said. “I’ve never been anywhere that has made me feel like that. As soon as I get to the Nashville area, I feel like I’m at home. It’s cozy.”
He said seeing the city grow as it has over the last few years means more opportunities for everyone.
“If you want to start something, the place to be is Nashville.”
Being a Los Angeles native, he’s been in big cities where everything is fast paced. In Nashville, Robbie said everything seems new, and people here respond to new things very well.
Growing up, Robbie’s parents had a catering business on the side. His parents and grandparents on both sides are excellent cooks and prepare traditional Mexican food.
“As a family, we put a lot of passion and love in our food, and we’re proud of what we do,” he said.
Watching the Food Network and having that background in food inspired him to pursue culinary arts school. A current student of the Art Institute in Nashville, he said he loves it.
Robbie had the opportunity to work at Music City Food and Wine Festival where he met some big name chefs and restaurateurs around town. One of who is Sal Avila, the head chef at Prima. Robbie said Sal is a friend and a mentor to him.
OPPORTUNITY and INSPIRATION
Just recently, Robbie was chosen to appear on the Food Network’s show Cutthroat Kitchen.
“One of the casting producers was searching hashtags, or I guess I came up on her feed, and she contacted me through Instagram,” he said. “I thought it was a joke at first, but sure enough, I did a few Skype interviews, and we start film next month. I’m excited and nervous, but I’m honored at the same time. It’s going to be fun.”
Projecting to be done with culinary school next year, Robbie said he’s got a couple of ideas up his chef’s coat sleeve including a meal prep service based on individual metabolic blueprints with local produce and farm to table foods. He also has an idea for a fine dining restaurant with a corner set fire in the kitchen.
Robbie said he loves cooking authentic Mexican foods.
“I’ve gotten pretty big on open fire cooking and smoking stuff. I got this method of cooking stuff on a string from Sal. It’s ridiculous how good it is.”
Francis Mallman, a celebrity Patagonian chef, is one of his biggest inspirations. Robbie said his four-year-old daughter and two-year-old son are also big inspirations to him.
“I’m also inspired by people who are genuine. Whenever I see someone come into the gym and can feel their persona, and that inspires me to go above and beyond for that person. If we all did that, this world would be a little better,” he said.
When Robbie thinks of the word community, he thinks of a team.
“Everything we created with FitForce was all in here,” he said pointing to his head. “The community that was born within FitForce is incredible. Sometimes I sit back and just think wow, this is amazing.”
Robbie said there have been people who’ve connected or reconnected because of his gym.
“Everyone plays a role, and it’s our jobs, as teammates, to maintain that community, to nurture it, and to keep it growing,” he said.
“One team, one fight.”
He said he doesn’t have many concerns for Hendersonville or the city of Nashville as a whole.
“I’ve lived all over the place, and this is a great place to live and raise your children, and I don’t think I would change anything,” he said. “Yeah, it’s probably going to be a little overpopulated, but that’s fine. We’ll adjust.”
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