Patron Saints of Paleo
Jason and Caleb Fetcher give "eating clean" a whole new meaning at Evolve Paleo Chef.
Jason and Caleb Fetcher are proud of their paleo bread. It’s an original recipe, they tell me — everything at Evolve Paleo Chef is — and they worked diligently at making sure their gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free bread is as close as possible to the real thing. The dark brown bread looks like a dense rye and the texture is spongelike. It’s chewy, hearty, with just a hint of sweetness that I would normally attribute to wheat.
The Crossroads location is a hybrid space, with a large selection of grab-and-go snacks, entrees and juices. The open-air kitchen prepares smoothies to order. There are two heavy bar tables for patrons who’d like to enjoy their boosted Green Machine in the shop, but for the most part, Evolve is more of an in-and-out hub than a hangout.
All the recipes are crafted by Caleb and his culinary team at the Evolve Paleo Chef kitchen in Lenexa, and yes, he tells me, the German chocolate cake and walnut-studded banana bread are supposed to taste that good.
“If it doesn’t taste good, we’re not going to do it,” Jason says.
“That said, our culinary team is pretty amazing,” Caleb says. “It’s about thinking outside the box. You can have bread, you can have pastries and cheesecake — you just want a healthy twist to them, so you use almond flour or coconut flour or almond milk or coconut milk. Instead of processed sugar, you use honey and agave nectar and pineapple juice — natural sweeteners. Is it harder to make paleo bread? For sure, and that’s why we’ve been successful, because cooking paleo has been really difficult. It takes a lot of time. But if you’re a good chef, you can make things taste good without using those no-no ingredients.”
An Evolving Business
Cooking paleo may require a lot of time in the kitchen, but the growth of Evolve Paleo Chef happened quickly. The Crossroads location is the seventh for the Fetchers —not bad for a business that got its start in 2012 in their garage in Overland Park.
The startup business happened mostly by accident, Caleb says. In 2010, he relocated from Arkansas with Jason to attend the culinary program at the Art Institutes International in Lenexa.
“I knew going into school that I didn’t want to be a chef, per se,” Caleb admits. “Being behind a line and running a kitchen and the high-stress Gordon Ramsey thing, that’s not who I am. I knew I wanted to do something in health.”
Jason was working on his chiropractor license at the time and encouraged Caleb to search for opportunities beyond the endless kitchen-hand postings he’d found.
“We made a post on Craigslist to see if anyone needed a private chef,” Jason says, “and the first client reached out to us and said, ‘My son is diagnosed as pre-diabetic, and we’re working out with Crossfit program, and we need to eat a specific diet.’ So that became our first client, as a weekly service to cook pre-diabetic, paleo cuisine.”
Neither he nor Caleb anticipated the accelerated growth of Evolve Paleo Chef.
“We grew very organically and methodically,” Jason says. “It’s just us, no investors. We paid cash for everything, didn’t go into debt, didn’t buy anything we couldn’t afford. It wasn’t intended to be this big thing.”
When it became impossible for Caleb to keep up with the demand for in-home chef services, they decided to introduce a meal delivery service.
“There are a few different ways to do it now,” Jason says, “but when we started, the way it worked was that you placed your order for the week every Friday by 10 a.m., and then you’d pick up on Sundays or arrange for a drop-off.
“When we started expanding, though, we thought, ‘There has to be something else we can add to keep people coming in.’ We were already paying rent and utilities on these locations, so we wanted to incorporate something into our stores that meshes with paleo food and gives us an outlet to keep our doors open longer and talk to more people about our business. That’s where the smoothies and the juices came in.”
I take a sip of a smoothie called the Super Green, and I barely taste the kale and spinach thanks to the additions of strawberry, pineapple, banana, avocado, orange juice and hemp milk.
“That’s what we’re about, making it easy to eat healthy,” Jason says. “Paleo means no processed sugars, no dairy, no wheat — those three things are what causes inflammation in the body, and if we eliminate those things, we reduce the risk of disease.”
Given the multiple and widespread locations of Evolve Paleo Chef, the Fechters go to great lengths to ensure that their products are consistent.
“Every month, we have a training class in Lenexa that all the stores send people to, and we go over the benefits and protocols of juicing, making smoothies, eating paleo and what customer service looks like,” Jason says. “Caleb and I travel from the support center — that’s what we call our headquarters in Lenexa — to one of the stores constantly, so there’s one of us every week in the stores.”
“When I was in culinary school, I would see six different students take the same recipe and end up with six different dishes,” Caleb says. “The biggest thing that we do is food, so having multiple kitchens was not an option for us. Everything — the pre-made meals, the salads, the grab-and-go entrees — all those are made at our large kitchen in Lenexa. Doing it in the stores allows for too much variation, and we wanted to make sure we maintained control. We see all the food that goes out to the stores, we know what products and what meats are coming in, and you can’t have all that control when you start splitting it up.”
“And since there’s such a significant health focus for us and our clients,” Jason adds, “that control is really essential.”
To Be or Not to Be Paleo?
A good portion of the Fetchers’ clients come to them with autoimmune diseases, and Jason’s expertise has been more than just handy. He’s Evolve Paleo Chef’s health guru; whenever one of their clients has dietary requirements or nutrition questions, Jason takes the lead. But that doesn’t mean the Fetchers follow a hardcore paleo diet.
“We are not strict paleo,” Caleb says. “We’re probably 90 percent paleo. If there’s a new taco place, I need to try it.”
“And I love cheese, but I know that if I have it at dinner, I’m going to feel bad the next day,” Jason says. “The goal is always the same: Do better tomorrow than what you did today. Are you going to cheat and fall off the wagon? Absolutely, and it’s OK to cheat, but the goal is to be mindful about what you’re going to put inside your body. Everyone has to pay the price for their diet sooner or later.”
“There’s a deeper meaning to paleo than just sticking with the little rulebook of food you can eat,” Caleb says. “It’s about control. Our ancestors didn’t have an all-you-can-eat buffet. We have small portions, we listen to our bodies, we eat until we’re full and then we stop. When I go out to a new restaurant, I’m still picking things that I like and are good for me.”
The Fetchers acknowledge that the word “paleo” can be a turn-off or a perceived buzzword in the diet industry. But Evolve Paleo Chef is meant to exist outside of the diet industry. Their clients don’t want a quick weight-loss solution; they want to change their lifestyle for the better.
Going beyond Food
Perhaps what’s most important to note about the way the Fetchers have expanded their business are not the food rules they happen to subscribe to, but the way they talk about their clients. That first client from Craigslist is still with the Fetchers today; the Fetchers rarely lose anyone. You can thank Caleb’s cooking for drawing clients in, but it’s really the relationships that the Fetchers — and the entire team at Evolve Paleo Chef — curate that keep them.
“Our goal from day one has been to build emotional connections with clients,” Jason says. “Often, we’re entering their lives at a delicate time — they’ve just been diagnosed with pre-diabetes or other autoimmune diseases, and that’s always a part of the conversation. Our clients want to share when they have something going on, and we want to hear about it.”
“It might sound corny, but we want to get involved with our clients,” Jason continues. “We’ll go into a different store, and we’ll know the kids who come in with their parents. We know what sports they play and what they’re doing in school. We know their life story. We welcome that. We want that, and we want our clients to know us, too.”
“It can be really, really hard to make sure you’re still building connections, especially when you’re focusing on growing your business, but it’s also the most beautiful thing you can do,” Caleb says. “We’ve been able to have a hand in changing lifestyles and changing lives, and it really doesn’t get better than that.”
For more information, visit evolvepaleochef.com.