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Dave Zilko

Entrepreneur Dave Zilko of Bloomfield Hills loves the music of crooner Tony Bennett, but loves the singer’s philosophy for staying on top even more.

Zilko, former vice chairman of Garden Fresh, the number one brand of fresh salsa in America, current operating partner at Human Capital, a Detroit-based private equity firm and CEO of the new plant-based protein brand, Skinny Butcher, has the same mission statement the late Bennett shared in an interview. “Bring the highest quality of everything you can to your product, and you’ll always have a place in the world,” said Zilko.”It doesn’t mean you’ll always be the biggest but you can always commit to being the best.”

Growing up with “humble beginnings” in Warren, Zilko’s rags-to riches story began with a rocky start in the early 1990s, after he got an MBA in marketing from George Washington University. He started making his own gourmet marinades, and shortly after acquired award-winning Mucky Duck Gourmet mustard, but things were still an uphill climb. Fate turned around a decade later with his partnership at Garden Fresh and their artisanally crafted products that included fresh salsas, dips, and tortilla chips.

“Much of what we did in business could be classified as irrational from the outside view, but we believed in keeping our core values and remaining authentic to what made us the very best,” said Zilko, whose offices are headquartered in Birmingham. “We never cut corners and that meant using only the highest quality ingredients and doing things by hand, because we believed that put our products ahead of the rest.”

Like all of his businesses, Zilko said his latest endeavor, Skinny Butcher, is close to his heart. The new plant-powered protein, frozen “Chick’n” products company came to life because of his national food industry coalition with Los Angeles and Seattle-based powerhouses and their common goal for creating a skinnier carbon footprint with breakthrough taste and texture in the alternative chicken market. “We want to be at the forefront to serve the growing flexitarian lifestyle, while doing something good for our planet,” said Zilko, who is the CEO and founder.

Skinny Butcher's brand ambassador, Megan Gregory of Bloomfield Hills, said working with Zilko has been life-changing. “I’ve learned from the best. The most important lesson is to succeed as a solo entrepreneur,” said Gregory. “One of biggest takeaways is you have to summon the courage to enter the 'dark rooms' – the places where there are no ready answers but you keep going no matter what, to find the light to overcome your challenges.”

With no plans to retire or move out of Michigan anytime soon, in his free time Zilko and his family love the walkable community of downtown Birmingham to shop and have dinner, notably at favorite restaurants Forest and Phoenicia.

Summarizing the entrepreneur‘s galactic career might best be said by the iconic lyrics of Tony Bennett, “Fly me to the moon, and let me play upon the stars.” Said Zilko, ”To live the life you’ve imagined you have to make unimagined sacrifices and find the courage to keep reaching for the very highest of what you want, always.

“Never forget how fulfilling the creative process is – there is an art and a science to business, and the artistic aspect of it, which is wildly underrated, is magical.”

Story: Susan Peck

Photo: Laurie Tennent


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