Who is DrVita? Hint: You might be buying his vitamins at Costco

DrVita manufacturing line in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013.

DrVita

DrVita distribution center in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. Launch slideshow »

There’s a painting by Las Vegas pop artist John “Ziggy” O’Leary in the executive offices of Las Vegas vitamin company DrVita.com that sums up the passions of founder Wayne Gorsek.

A bottle of DrVita vitamins is wearing boxing gloves and knocking out a bottle of Vitacost, vitamins made by Gorsek’s former company, now his competitor. In the background sits an aircraft — Gorsek’s beloved private jet. There also are images of a wine bottle and Playboy bunny ears. The painting is set beneath a flaming sunset and Las Vegas mountains.

Gorsek is a self-taught vitamin and supplement manufacturer who arrived in Southern Nevada in 2012 after taking his first company, Vitacost, to Inc 500 prominence.

He became interested in wellness supplements as a child watching his grandparents, who raised him, fall ill.

Growing up near St. Louis, his grandfather worked at Scott Air Force Base, which helped get Gorsek interested in aviation. He checked books out from the library and learned everything he could about flying.

In the 1970s, his grandfather contracted Parkinson’s disease, and Gorsek looked to books to find a way to save him.

“I used to believe, growing up in America in the ’70s — when one of my favorite television shows was ‘Emergency!’ — that hospitals and paramedics would save everybody, and everybody had a good cure or result,” Gorsek said. “Sadly, that’s just Hollywood.”

He soon concluded that the drugs prescribed by doctors wouldn’t stop the progression of his grandparents’ diseases and came to believe that the medications were toxic.

“What I did discover was that the right diet, moderate exercise, and the right nutrients and herbs could have miracle benefits without the high cost and the side effects of the drugs,” he said.

Gorsek never finished high school, getting a GED instead, but continued to learn about dietary supplements, vitamins and flying.

“In my early years, I had to have a medical dictionary that I kept by my side,” he said. “In medicine and science, there are thousands of words not taught in normal education. A lot of my doctor friends said it was a good thing I didn’t go to college or medical school because it would have ruined me.”

Applying what he learned in books, Gorsek set out to develop a multivitamin to sell online cheaply. He started with a single multivitamin, devising the ingredients he wanted, then turning the formula over to lab personnel to create.

Meanwhile, he continued to fly as a hobby. He took his first solo flight in a single-engine Cessna in the late 1980s, eventually upgrading to multi-engine planes.

When Gorsek founded Vitacost in 1994, he cut back on flying, opting to reinvest and expand his company rather than spend his money on planes.

Vitacost had operations in Florida, North Carolina and Las Vegas. With Gorsek at the helm, the company had 1 million customers, processed 3 million orders a year and generated annual revenue of $160 million, according to Gorsek's Nevada application for tax abatements. Vitacost was included in the Inc 500 five years in a row.

He said colleagues persuaded him to take the company public, a decision he was uncertain about.

Then, as the recession began cutting into sales, the board of directors made a move that shocked Gorsek. It fired him in 2009.

There’s no background about Gorsek on the Vitacost website, nor did the Florida company return phone calls. Gorsek calls it corporate betrayal by greedy investors who didn’t agree with his way of doing business. News accounts describe it as a retirement.

But a 2009 Vitacost prospectus said the company’s board booted Gorsek as a condition of continuing to be listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange. Gorsek was investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1999 and in 2001, a U.S. District Court judge entered a summary judgment against him, alleging that he violated anti-fraud and anti-touting securities laws.

The SEC filed a civil complaint in 1999 alleging that Gorsek operated a public relations firm that published research without disclosing compensation it received from 20 publicly traded companies it endorsed. The endorsements artificially inflated the value and price of the shares and were reprints of the companies’ own projections, not independent research, the complaint said.

The matter remained separate from Gorsek's dealings with Vitacost.

Gorsek’s settlement with the SEC restricted him from holding a management or board position with the company. He was named chief operations architect and later served as a consultant to the company in anticipation of it being listed on the Nasdaq. When it became evident that the Nasdaq wasn’t going to allow Gorsek to make policy decisions, Vitacost cut ties.

“The day they retired me, I was in training in Dallas earning my Phenom 100 (flying) rating,” he said. “I had to leave the classroom to take the call from the lawyer CEO at the time. He said, ‘The board had a meeting. We don’t need your services anymore.’

“They wiped my phone remotely. I lost all my emails, all my contacts. The phone was dead. That night, instead of studying my test materials, I had to go to an AT&T store to get a new phone and new phone number and start over.”

Gorsek signed a noncompete clause as part of a buyout but almost immediately started making plans for a new company.

He opened the DrVita manufacturing and distribution plant in 2012 after receiving tax abatements and deferrals from the Nevada Economic Development Commission.

Southern Nevada’s low humidity was ideal for manufacturing vitamins. The plant also is close to California, where several of his customers and vendors live.

Most of Gorsek's products are distributed through DrVita.com, but he also has a distribution deal with Costco and manufactures his products under other labels. DrVita has just under 300 products on the market, including multivitamins, fish oil and chia seeds.

The company is scrutinized by the federal Food and Drug Administration, which makes regular inspections of the plant.

DrVita markets itself on the Internet mostly, peddling pills the same way Zappos.com sells shoes — online and by telephone. The Internet is crowded with online supplement retailers, but Gorsek’s company is growing. It plans to expand its southwest Las Vegas warehouse and distribution equipment.

Using money from the Vitacost buyout, Gorsek invested $5.5 million in construction and equipment for his plant and treated himself to a twin-engine corporate jet with a pressurization system that enables it to fly above commercial airplanes.

He recently received Federal Aviation Administration permission to fly above the Las Vegas Strip to film a video he hopes to use to promote his company. On board was John Payne of the rock band Asia, Gorsek’s friend and celebrity endorser.

Gorsek, 46, takes a regimen of supplements that includes a multivitamin, fish oil, probiotics, garlic and onion. He also has become a connoisseur of red wine, which he says has health benefits.

He goes to the doctor only once every two years — to get his FAA medical review for flying.

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