Mike Katz Jr. grew up in the gym business and has been working in it for most of his life.
The five Planet Fitness health club franchises he owns with his father and their business partner–with locations in North Haven, Branford, Guilford, Hamden and East Haven – make them the biggest gym operators in the New Haven region.
Katz said he enjoys working with his customers and trainers so much, it doesn’t even feel like a job.
"I don’t come to work," he said. "It’s not a job. It’s me. It’s who I am."
He and his father are both North Branford residents. Mike Katz Sr. is a former NFL player for the NY Jets and bodybuilding champion. He famously appeared with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno in the documentary film "Pumping Iron" in 1977.
Katz said his father and training partner, Jerry Mastrangelo, opened their first gym, a World Gym franchise in Hamden, in 1979 because they were dissatisfied with the shape of the gym they used in New Haven.
"The original reason was just to have a good, clean place to work out in," Mike Katz Jr. said.
Many of their friends who worked out with them at the other gym followed them to the new facility, helping to make it a success.
They opened additional gyms in Guilford, North Haven, North Branford and Branford and switched to the Planet Fitness franchise in 2004.
"I grew up in it," said Katz, 41. "My father was Mr. America when I was six months old." He started working at the gyms when he was 16 and currently is the manager of the Branford Planet Fitness.
Many readers are probably familiar with Mike Katz Sr.’s story. He took up weight training as a boy after he was bullied for being Jewish and wearing glasses. He played for the Jets in 1967 and 1968, but missed Super Bowl III after a knee injury ended his professional football career.
Although his father was a famous bodybuilder, Mike Katz Jr. said their Planet Fitness gyms stress fitness training for ordinary people who want to get in shape.
"This is the anti-bodybuilding gym," he said.
That reflects the evolution of the fitness gym industry, he said. Their gyms are a place to get away from stress.
"Sometimes it’s social," he said. "This is an alternative to bars. You ask 10 people, they’ll probably give you 10 different reasons."