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Paleo meal service brings food back to the basics

By Kelli Kyle

On a Sunday afternoon, Finnegan O’Brien fires up the grill at Grubbi Groks BBQ, a barbecue restaurant in Dryden. At just nine years old, he is just over a foot taller than the appliance he is using.

“It’s really fun,” Finnegan said. “They let us do stuff we don’t get to do at home – like using the grill, using the fryer.”

At the other counter, his seven-year-old sister, Hazel, cleans leaves of oregano. Their father, Sean, stands watch at the center island, where he manually presses the beef for the burgers that Finnegan will place on the heated grill. Sean’s wife, Amy, and their business partner, Tess Guckenheimer, are seated in the restaurant, brainstorming creative new ways to market the service.

This is the scene every Sunday at Grubbi Groks BBQ, opened by O’Brien’s brother, Chris, this November. However, Sean, Amy, Tess and the two tiny chefs aren’t working for that restaurant – they use the space to prepare meals for Groks Rx Kitchen. This is a separate subscription meal service launched in February that provides customers with pre-made paleo food, available for pick up at three different locations – Crossfit Pallas and Nutrition and Wellness Center in Ithaca, and Grubbi Groks BBQ in Dryden.

A the former head chef of his restaurant, Willow, O’Brien said the concept of Groks Rx allowed him continue his passion for cooking.

“How can I do this — which is exciting — and still keep a job? So I think subscription meals were the start of it,” O’Brien said.

The paleo diet is an all natural, gluten-free diet that cuts out grains, legumes, dairy and many highly processed foods. Groks Rx meals provide subscribers with a balance of 30 percent protein, 30 percent fat and 40 percent carbs. They will adjust the meals based on one’s personal requirements or restrictions. O’Brien said he especially enjoys the health benefits of this nutritional breakdown, because it gives more energy to keep up with his kids.

“I think the best part is the way it makes you feel. You don’t feel bloated,” O’Brien said.

Lindsay Gilmour, an assistant professor of dance at Ithaca College, first subscribed to Groks Rx Kitchen in November. She does not eat strictly paleo, but she said she loves the energy these meals give her.

“You don’t have the sort of heavy lethargic feeling you get when you eat a lot of carbohydrates,” Gilmour said.

Gilmour receives four meals a week — two on Monday and two on Wednesday. With her nine-to-five days, a husband, and two-year-old, she said she appreciates the convenience of Groks Rx Kitchen service.

“For me it makes total sense,” Gilmour said. “I don’t have time to come home and make a decent meal. So now I have an amazing meal without having to cook it.”

Many people who adopt the paleo diet do so for health reasons, while others – like athletes – hop on to stay fit. Some people often refer to paleo eating as the “cave person’s diet,” because of its resemblance to diets of the first humans.

Thomas Swensen, professor and chair of the Ithaca College Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences, said the introduction of processed foods into the human diet threw a curveball at human evolution.

“We didn’t evolve to eat the way we eat, so therefore it creates a bunch of health problems for us,” Swensen said.

Swensen also mentioned the paleo diet’s large popularity among athletes. In fact, O’Brien first noticed a demand for paleo food at the gym he attended. After owning a restaurant for 8 years, O’Brien decided to use his experience in the industry to create the paleo meal service. He said he felt the subscription format was best suited for his family life and his kids.

“If we can do it and do it right, it’s more of a family friendly thing,” O’Brien said. “When these guys are here helping me out, I can get the subscription meals up to where we want, and I can focus on production during the day when they’re at school, and I can be home at night.

This past spring, the O’Brien family brought Groks Rx Kitchen to the Farmer’s Market at Steamboat Landing and the Cornell Farmer’s Market. As a new service, O’Brien used the booth to broaden the service’s reach, and introduce the public to the type of food he was making. Groks Rx Kitchen left the Farmer’s Market when they cut back on hours in early November. The service began focusing on subscribers once more.

For someone like O’Brien who has a background in cooking, creating meals by replacing key ingredients with paleo approved ones is somewhat of a challenge. However, it is one that he welcomes.

“I’ve cooked my whole life,” O’Brien said. “It’s a challenge, it’s new, it’s fun.”

The future of Groks Rx Kitchen is still unclear. O’Brien had considered a paleo food truck, but did not feel it had year-round appeal in the Ithaca area. At the moment, he does not have any plans for a permanent Groks Rx restaurant location. O’Brien said he is content with growing the subscription service, so that one day they may expand to other locations across New York state – and maybe even open up that food truck.

“People were consumed, intrigued, and interested, and we want it to hopefully grow bigger," O'Brien said. bigger.”

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