Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal

How Geneva Nurtured the Growth of Food Startup RealEats

Geneva-based company and first $1 million Grow-NY winner recently raised $2.8 million in private-public capital investment

Editor’s note: LOCATE FINGER LAKES continues coverage of the City of Geneva’s Food and Beverage Industry Consortium and its efforts to foster business development in this growing sector of the local and regional economy. RealEats, profiled today, is one of the City’s major business success stories.

RealEatsWhen food-tech company RealEats was looking for a home for its startup operations, it sought a location that could support both the development of its product and its business.

It found that sweet spot in Geneva, New York.

Dan Wise, RealEats founder and CEO, said the company selected Geneva because of its central location in the Finger Lakes agricultural region.

“The bounty of this region in both agriculture and talent is a perfect match for RealEats,” Wise said.

He credited the City of Geneva for finding the company its space at the Geneva Enterprise Development Center, within the City’s Innovation Kitchen, and for obtaining funding to develop its operation there. The City secured RealEats a $350,000 grant from the Community Development Block Grant program and a $150,000 loan from the City’s Revolving Loan Fund.

“Geneva is proud to be the home of RealEats and to do our part to support its growth within the City and around the country,” said Sage Gerling, Geneva City Manager. “Whether it is support with financing, incubator space, or prospective partners, the City of Geneva is committed to help innovative food and agribusiness startups thrive in our community.”

Ontario County has been another important partner at the table. “Ontario County is delighted to be part of the success story for RealEats,” said Mike Manikowski, Director of Ontario County Economic Development. “We partnered with the City of Geneva early on to help attract and provide early capital as RealEats established its business in Geneva. They are a leading example of the power of our central Finger Lakes location for Ag and Food businesses.”

Founded in 2017, RealEats delivers locally-sourced, chef-prepared meals directly to homes across America. The meals arrive in vacuum-sealed pouches, and, reheated in boiling water, are ready in about six minutes.

“I started RealEats because I was a busy single father challenged to find a way to make my kids healthy, real food,” said Wise. “Every day around 4 p.m., I found myself in the position of choosing between healthy and easy. I wanted to start feeding my kids healthier food instead of choosing unhealthier options. I found a product that made a lot of sense for us and we turned it into a business.”

Dan Wise

Dan Wise, RealEats Founder & CEO

“When we launched RealEats, we set out on a mission to build a healthier food future by making it simple for everyone to access and enjoy real food,” Wise added. “Many of the ingredients used to make our delicious meals are sourced directly from hard-working Finger Lakes farmers right around the corner from our kitchen.”

Geneva offers access to world-class food research and innovation

In fewer than three years, RealEats has achieved notable success. It is now shipping its product to 28 states and is working on a $2 million expansion of its Geneva facility, a project funded in part by a $500,000 Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative Grant. An additional $250,000 loan from the City’s Revolving Loan Fund and a $750,000 Community Development Block Grant through Ontario County has supported RealEats in sustainably growing its customer base.

Last year, RealEats was named the $1 million grand prize investment winner in New York State’s inaugural Grow-NY food and agriculture business competition. RealEats topped nearly 200 startups from around the world.

The Center of Excellence in Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech, based in Geneva, recommended that RealEats enter the competition, and was one of several partners that contributed to the company’s winning presentation.

Early on, RealEats worked with Cornell AgriTech to develop its food safety scheduled processes, which Wise said was significant in acquiring the necessary certifications to run the business.

The Center of Excellence in Food and Agriculture helped RealEats expand into the a la carte snack market with the launch of its pilot smart snack vending machine program in New York City.

It has also connected the company with venture capital investors, resulting in major commitments of funding.

Recently, the Center helped RealEats secure additional operating capital to meet increased consumer demand for home-delivered meals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wise said sales increased over 100 percent from March to May.

Cathy Young

Cathy Young, Director of the Center of Excellence in Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech

Sage Gerling

Sage Gerling, Geneva City Manager

Mike Manikowski

Mike Manikowski, Director of Ontario County Economic Development

“RealEats’ story is compelling, now more than ever,” said Cathy Young, Director of the Center of Excellence in Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech. “Consumers are clamoring for healthier options, and the pandemic put an emphasis on the convenience of home-delivered meals. The company has successfully met business-related challenges that resulted from the virus, and transformed them into opportunities.”

“Their business plan is attracting more investors, allowing them to hire more workers, and growing their loyal customer base,” Young added. “The Center of Excellence is proud of the strides they continue to make every day.”

Geneva is a progressive, forward-thinking business development partner

One of Geneva’s major goals, said City Manager Sage Gerling, is to attract more private investment into the City’s food space. RealEats is an example of what can be accomplished, she said.

Just last month, the company secured a commitment of $2.8 million in capital to support its growing operations.

The capital raise involved a number of private and public investors, including Armory Square Ventures. It was led by Finger Lakes Forward Venture Capital Fund L.P., which is backed by New York’s Empire State Development and managed by Rochester-based Excell Partners.

Wise said the collaboration of state and local partners has allowed the company to grow.

“Partnering with New York State, Ontario County, the City of Geneva, and Cornell AgriTech has enabled RealEats to make it simple for thousands of consumers to have access to real food, solving the classic dinner dilemma Americans face each day,” he said.

RealEats employs 50 people in Geneva and expects to add significant jobs as the company grows.

It is not only committed to building a strong company, but also supporting the Geneva community it calls home.

RealEats is one of the largest regular donors to the Geneva Center of Concern and has donated over 25,000 meals to the food pantry.


Bill Simon, Board President, Geneva Center of Concern, presents RealEats Executive Chef Marco Ballatori with a plaque recognizing the company’s support of the food pantry.

And it is carrying Geneva’s rich food heritage into the future.

In fact, the building now occupied by RealEats was formerly home to the American Can Company, which was the largest tin can company in the U.S. and a major Geneva employer for 80 years.

“With the business development resources provided by the City, County and partners like Cornell AgriTech, Geneva continues to be a hub for the region’s food and agriculture economy,” said City Manager Sage Gerling. “We look forward to continuing to grow innovative companies like RealEats and others that can benefit from our wide network of resources and support.”

“With our partners at Cornell’s AgriTech campus, the City and County work every day to attract and retain these enterprises,” said Ontario County’s Mike Manikowski. “I believe our public-private partnerships will help develop many more outstanding Ag and Food businesses for our area.”

“The support from progressive state and local governments has helped RealEats succeed,” Wise said. “In my opinion, there’s no better location to build a better food future.”

Launched in 2019, the City of Geneva’s Food and Beverage Industry Consortium is comprised of food and beverage producers, and business, academia and government leaders. LOCATE FINGER LAKES is a member of its Leadership Circle.

For more information on the Food and Beverage Consortium, contact City Manager Sage Gerling at 315-789-6104 or

Watch the City’s ‘Get It Started’ video (y en español) to learn more about the benefits of doing business in Geneva, New York.


« View all posts