Interview With Paleo Cakes Co-Founder Ellen Gramness
Competitor.com: What makes the Paleo diet good for athletes?
Ellen Gramness: We can only speak from our own experience, and we’re not professional athletes by any means. However, it’s been very clear that our performance in our Crossfit and endurance training has improved; we’ve noticed a significant increase in energy, stamina and strength while on the Paleo diet. Similarly, we notice adverse effects in these areas when we slip in our eating habits. The fact that our performance—especially when preparing for gym competitions or races—is so much better while on the Paleo diet is our main motivation to keep at it.
When did you start living Paleo and how has it changed your life?
We started implementing the Paleo diet almost a year ago. We try to eat as Paleo as possible without driving ourselves crazy. the biggest change is the sugar. As pastry chefs, we are both exposed to a lot of sweets throughout the day and we used to taste test all these items without restriction, which further developed our sugar addictions. When we started the Paleo diet, we learned to make better choices when eating at home, but also to hold ourselves more accountable when at work. Just last week, we were laughing about this. We needed to make a non-Paleo pie for a friend, and had to make a special trip to the grocery store to get the flour, butter and sugar. How strange to realize that professional pastry chefs didn’t have any of these things on hand. A year ago, we would have. And yet, we don’t really miss them.
I read that going Paleo was Chuck’s idea. Did you struggle with weaning yourself off sugar and grains?
Yes, and to be perfectly honest, it’s still a struggle. I come from a family that appreciates good food and loves to eat. My mother is a wonderful cook. I still crave non-Paleo comfort foods and I do allow myself cheats here and there. Change takes time. One thing that has really helped me is altering the way I think about the non-Paleo food I want to eat. I think of what I’d feel like if I ate it and that I’d have to immediately row 1,000 meters for time after eating it. I’d definitely regret eating whatever it was. I’ve found that going cold turkey was the way to go. You first have to break your sugar addiction—it took two or three weeks for me. After that, it’s really quite easy if you keep your kitchen supplied with fresh protein, veggies, nuts and fruit. Also, keep a Paleo snack on you when you’re out of the house. You want to set yourself up for success. I like to keep an apple, a bag of almonds and, of course, some Paleo Cakes with me in my car.
What motivated you to start the company?
Many member at our gym follow the Paleo diet. We kept hearing their complaints about the lack of sufficient snack foods on the market. The idea of making our own baked snacks seemed like an appealing challenge. As chefs, we love to feed people and thought it might be a fun project to undertake, as well as great personal motivation to be more Paleo ourselves. It was exciting to bring out experiments to our gym to have members and coaches test them. We got such great encouragement from everyone that it inspired us to keep at it. After we had a few flavors that we were really proud of, we thought: Can we do this for real? We have always wanted to start a business together and we are so passionate about keeping Crossfit and Paleo part of our daily lives that it seemed like the perfect fit.
What type of ingredients do you use and where do they come from?
Almonds are our biggest ingredient. They’re in all of our flavors, in both the baked and raw flavors. We buy natural almond meal from Giusto’s in San Francisco. Almond butter is in all of the baked flavors; we like to use Blue Diamond homestyle creamy almond butter because it has only two ingredients: almond and sea salt. The company uses California almonds and packages its products in Sacramento. We purchase dried fruit from local specialty produce companies. We buy fresh fruit from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s as we need it. We also recently met Heidi from Chocolatl while at the NorCal Regional Crossfit Games. We’ll start using her company’s chocolate in our Banana Chocolate Chunk flavor in the coming months. We’re always on the hunt for better local sources for our ingredients, especially if they’re small businesses like ours. One thing’s for sure, Paleo ingredients are not cheap!
Can you talk about the company’s quality assurance?
Chuck and I really take great care of every order. We don’t have any employees; it’s just us. So we are our quality assurance. We only buy ingredients from reputable businesses and we hold our own products to high standards. We also take customer feedback very seriously. We’re a new business and know that we may make some mistakes along the way. But, we strive for success and we put the customer first.
You ship your products, so how do you ensure preservation?
The raw flavors have fewer ingredients and a longer shelf life. These snacks are basically a trail mix, but all in one bite. The baked Paleo Cakes contain mixed tocopherols (vitamin E from olive oil), which acts as a natural preservative; however, it’s not as long-acting as artificial/chemical preservatives. For that reason, we date each product as we bake it and always remind our customers to consume or freeze their cakes by the date marked. We use one to three day shipping to get fresh product to the customer quickly. Our products aren’t intended to sit in your gym bag for a week like a protein bar off the grocery store shelf.
How do you market your products?
We have our online store, Facebook page, and a relationship with our gym, Crossfit Moxie in San Jose, and another local gym, Crossfit Cadence in Los Gatos. Members of these gyms can place orders at their location and we deliver their cakes on a specified day. This saves them from paying shipping costs. We also love getting invites to local throwdowns and competitions in the area. We offer cash sales of Paleo Cakes and Paleo refreshments in our tent, and we donate prize baskets to the top competitors. We would really love to get our products into local stores as well. It’s definitely been a challenge to start a business while we’re both still working full-time at our day jobs. We’re just chipping away to help our business grow. We have big dreams for our little cakes.
What’s it like being married and also business partners?
Fun … 99 percent of the time. We met freshman year at culinary school and were in many of the same classes. Wanting to work together again was one of the main reasons we started our business. We make a good team and are best friends. Of course, that’s not to say that we don’t have our moments of wanting to strangle each other.
What’s the one thing you’d like to say to people who doubt the Paleo lifestyle?
Try it! Read Robb Wolf’s book, “The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet,” and then give it a shot for a month. You will survive.