Rocco Castellano came back to the Cincinnati area in 2022 after 14 years out West, building his brand and his business to help others get relief from pain.
“I thought it would be a good place to come back to because I still know many people here,” said the New Jersey native. “I consider Cincinnati more my home than New Jersey or New York. It’s given me so much more.”
Tulsa, Oklahoma was the last of four cities where the exercise specialist and “boss biohacker” lived since his departure from Cincinnati in 2008. Albuquerque, New Mexico, Las Vegas, Nevada, Fort Worth, Texas are the other three.
Castellano just opened his “Train with Rocco” studio in March in Covington, Kentucky. While he did personal training and boot camp classes in the past, his focus now is on pain management through biohacking, using Pulsed Electro-Magnetic Field therapy, a system that helps the body heal itself at the cellular level. When you have pain, it builds back the healthy tissue and exhausts the damaged tissue.
Originally from Ridgefield, New Jersey, Castellano arrived in the tri-state area in the mid-1990s and, while it was a culture shock, he immediately made a name for himself, whether it was through personal training, massage therapy or cooking his best Italian dishes at restaurant Chez Nora in Covington.
Part of the drawing card to come to Cincinnati was the city’s infamous ranking in the top 10 list of fattest cities in the country. He thought he could make a difference and started doing strength training seminars at the University of Cincinnati.
Through a series of meeting the right people at the right time and his ability to network and work any situation as needed, he started marketing himself and met some high-end clients while doing massage therapy at the now-closed Strands Hair Salon.
Then, one Sunday at Chez Nora, a customer tried Castellano’s oversized ravioli and asked to meet him. That customer was Rick Consolo, who produced the Gary Burbank show on 700WLW radio.
“I started listening to the show laughing my ass off all the time,’’ Castellano said. Then he saw Consolo again, who invited him to come see the show. That was all he needed.
Gary “loved my laugh and loved breaking my balls on the air about being a former boxer, gangster and all-around tough guy from New Jersey,” Castellano said. “Plus, he loved my dialect. I sound exactly the way you would think someone named Rocco from New Jersey sounds.”
Eventually, Burbank made Castellano a permanent guest on the program, “Sports and Consequences.” Callers would ask Rocco questions about anything, not just fitness. He said he was never stumped. Two questions that stand out: “What is the blue reflector in the middle of the highway for? A: It's where fire hydrants are located. And, “What are the nails high on the dog and cat’s legs that are not part of the paws called? A: Dewclaws.”
And in the middle of it all, Castellano did cooking demos at The Party Source in Bellevue, Kentucky for 12 weeks. “I love cooking so I really enjoyed it. I didn’t really prep. I kind of just winged it every time,” he said.
After Burbank’s show, Castellano appeared on the morning programs on three other radio stations. He also created “askROCCO,” a column which grew out of the on-air questions and the more than 1,000 emails he’d get in a month. It eventually was picked up through syndication across the country. For all of his celebrity, Castellano says he didn’t handle fame very well.
“It was the perfect storm of what was going on,” he said. “I started to believe in my own hype. I was making way too much money for my own good.”
After a few not-so-great investments and a big real estate loss, he decided to leave the area. He headed to Albuquerque in 2008, since his column was popular there. While there, he started holding business summits, helping owners of fitness businesses.
“People wanted to know how to do personal branding,” he said. “During that time, I was a business coach, helping fitness professionals brand themselves like I did through ‘askROCCO’. He also did Skype calls and one-on-one visits to facilities.
From there, he and his girlfriend Tara (now his wife) moved to Las Vegas in February 2011. He continued his businesses and eventually moved to Fort Worth, Texas in 2015, where he helped a company called iRelieve break into Amazon and Costco. They then went back to Las Vegas in 2017 where he worked remotely as COO of a company called Rolflex, helping them go from near bankruptcy to profitability within 18 months.
It was at this point Castellano, who was already invested in the biohacking community, was introduced to many of the big players in the field. He and Tara moved from Las Vegas to Tulsa, in 2020, and then the pandemic stopped everything. And then there was one week of seven straight days when the temperature stayed at seven below zero. “I thought If the weather was going to be this crazy, I’d rather be back in Cincinnati,” he said.
They arrived in March 2022.
“I wanted to start my therapeutic exercise and biohacking concept in Cincinnati because it’s both difficult and easier to build a business here in the Cincinnati area,” he said. “It’s hard to build trust here but when you do, it’s very easy to make money.”
He emphasized that people care about people here. “I’ve been all over the country. It’s a scam there,” talking about New York and Los Angeles. “Here, once you’re in the mix,” people care about you.”
But he admits that it takes a while to get into those good graces, maybe because of his profession or just because of his name and his abrasive personality. “A lot of people didn’t like me just because my name was Rocco,” he said. “I’m Italian from New York. They didn’t like that.”
His new perch on Madison Avenue is situated among several other businesses and eateries and he gets walk-by traffic from the nearby convention center. “I look forward to growing my business here,” he said. He plans to then expand to Louisville, Lexington, Nashville and Columbus.
“Right now, there’s not that many people coming into my shop. People just walk right by. Everyone here doesn’t want to take a chance,” he said. But once they do, once they walk through the door, and they’ll be out of pain, they say it’s the best thing they ever had. Then they’ll tell their friends.”
If he’s not in the studio, you may find him at some of his favorite places: the Cincinnati Zoo, the Museum Center or the Marina on Kellogg Avenue. He also likes the John Roebling Bridge “because it was the prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge.”
And even though he’s a wellness expert, he does have a vice: New Riff Balboa Rye Whiskey.