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Buy a new truck or buy health insurance?
Buy a new truck or buy health insurance?
Avanti Food owner Marco Lentini at his Taglio pizza shop.

Avanti Food Corporation
Health care: 75 total employees; about a dozen are covered

"Marco is an example of what small business is all about," President Obama said in March when he spoke at the White House with businesses owners and community lenders about ways to increase lending to small businesses.

Marco Lentini is the founder and president of Avanti Food Corporation, a holding company for several Philadelphia restaurants. Avanti owns three health-food cafes called Gia Pronto -- a fourth is on the way -- and a pizzeria called Taglio.

Before going into the restaurant business, Lentini was an investment banker in New York and London. "Six years ago, Philadelphia was regarded as where you go to eat cheesesteaks," he says. "We are not fast food like McDonalds, and we are not a white table restaurant -- we are very much in that hybrid segment. What is different about it is adopting that all-natural, whole foods concept."

Lentini's restaurants collectively employ 75 workers, but he can only afford to pay for health insurance for his managers. "I would love to be able to provide health insurance to every one of my employees. Financially, I can't right now." Lentini would like to see reform make that goal affordable: "My view of the government is for the government to help me be able to do that."

Still, balancing priorities will always be a struggle. "If I have to decide between buying the health insurance or buying a new truck that would allow me expand deliveries -- that is a decision I wouldn't want to have to make," he says.

Lentini purchases health insurance with Aetna. "[Employees] have the same choice of the Aetna health care plan that I have," he says. "That is something that I am adamant about -- if I am going to offer health insurance, then I want everybody to have the same plan that I have."

For his first few years in business, Lentini didn't offer health insurance. But then Lentini's first manager, Carlos, had a baby. "What made me realize the importance of insurance to people is that he had a baby boy when employed by us, and I thought, Wouldn't it be great if my company could afford to offer a family like that benefits?'"

It's an expensive benefit. Lentini pays between $250 to $900 per month for each employee to be covered -- a number that's only going up. "They continually increase," he says. "I can guarantee that they don't stay the same or decrease."

NEXT: High deductibles, but coverage for all

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LAST UPDATE: Jan 11 2010 | 2:14 PM ET
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