Thursday, May 22, 2014


Fabio meets and greets

Fabio is in Portland this week, touring the local Whole Foods much to the delight of many women here. I went to the first event and wrote a story. Because: Why not?

Fabio, the Italian heartthrob known for his hunky physique and exquisite mane has parted ways with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, the spread and spray he advertised in the 1990s.

But he is still catnip to some women, and in the sales world, they call that a sure thing.

He's on a nationwide tour of Whole Foods markets, selling Healthy Planet Nutrition protein powders. And, perhaps more importantly, he is posing for pictures. His first of several Portland appearances was Wednesday on Northeast Fremont Street. Thursday, he'll be at the grocery chain's Pearl District location. Later in the week, he's at the Tanasbourne, Hollywood and Laurelhurst locations.

Women once mobbed him. Cops had to break-up fights in the 1990s as fans fought for a piece of Fabio's 6-foot-3-inch frame, the cover image of countless romance novels.

But heartthrobs come bearded here. Butter is back in style. And the 40 women lining up Wednesday in the gluten free aisle did not seem the mobbing type. They were business women, literary types, and their smiles verged on embarrassed giggles as the clock ticked toward 12.

"We booked a group meeting in Outlook," Alyson Clair confessed. She and 40 coworkers at the apparel company Amer Sports have spent the last few years working alongside a bare-chested, boot-clad cardboard cutout of Fabio.

They bought the cutout for a Halloween party. Eight of the Amer Sports workers loved it so much, they cut out of work to meet the real deal.

"No dudes would come with us," Hart said.

Fabio was late Wednesday, so they posed for pictures with their replica. It's flat, but the sweat pictured dripping down the chest gives it a lustful, if not lifelike, quality.

"We're wondering if this is a no shoes, no shirts, no service kind of place," Kristin Normansen said. A passing Whole Foods worker stopped with an official word from on high: The grocery gods would let the 55-year-old Fabio remove his shirt.

When he did arrive, his tresses still extended to the ends of the earth -- or at least well past his shoulders. But his chest was not bare. Instead, he wore cowboy boots, snug-fitting jeans and a T-shirt tight enough to leave little to the imagination.

"Oh my god, his hair is flowing," Clair said.

"He looks good, so luscious," said Jessica Neciuk, a 22-year old on her lunch break. "He's beautiful. Everyone in my office made fun of me: 'He's twice your age.' But I don't care. I'm a sucker for long hair."

Fabio and an assistant set up in the frozen food aisle, a good 10 yards from the butter and butter substitutes. The assistant blended protein power into almond milk while our hunk talked chemistry.

"Your body is 60 percent water, 40 percent protein," he said before delving deep into something called the "biological value scale."

The Italian accent gave everything Fabio said an air of the profound. But after 10 minutes of scientific talk, giggles had sharpened to pursed lips.

Jocelyn McAuley and Kellie O'Donnell interrupted the lecture. They had raided their friends' costumes closets to assemble outfits befitting the cover of a romance novel and sneaked out of work to see Fabio. This was a bucket-list ambition; Mcauley's mother would be so jealous.

Yet as midday stretched into afternoon, they lost patience.

"I'm sorry, we have to go soon," Mcauley said. "Can we please get a picture?"

Fabio paused and furrowed his brow -- giving them the sexy stare of a book jacket bodice ripper. The romance cover replicas posed for their picture then rushed out, clutching their skirts in one hand and cell phones in the other.

"OK, if you come here, I explain you then we take the pictures," Fabio told the rest of the women. "Most of the world is confused right now. All these people, they give you a lot of bologna and very little science."

He held up a bottle of protein powder: The unpasteurized, sugarless mix is kosher and gluten free. It has high levels of lactoferrin, immunoglobulins and bovine serum albumin.

And it is delicious.

Well, at least more delicious than other protein drinks the women said they had tried. It was light and slightly frothy, they said, not too chalky or sweet.

Men suddenly appeared from the aisles to sip the chocolate and vanilla mixes from tiny paper cups. A lesbian said she was considering switching teams.

"Everybody thinks beans are such a great protein," Fabio said. "They are not. They are bottom of the scale. Even a potato has more protein. There is a lot of marketing and very little science."

At $32 for 10 ounces, his mix is expensive. But other protein powders supplement the good stuff with sugar and chemicals, he said.

"Give the people the right thing, and it will be right forever," he said.

They bought the powder, but in this case, the right thing turned out to be pictures.

-- Casey Parks

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