Prepared meals are nothing new. Meal delivery services aren’t that groundbreaking either. But when Amber Lewis launched modPALEO in 2011, she became an inadvertent food business pioneer.
“Nobody gave me a book,” she says of her business model. By providing convenient delivery of healthy, locally sourced meals prepared according to the precepts of the paleo diet, she was innovating in more than one way.
“When we started, we were one of two companies in the United States that were doing paleo meals. The other one was frozen and we’re fresh,” she says, seated in one of the bright offices of her business near Charlotte Douglas Airport. “Now there’s a handful of them, but we’re still the only ones that ship fresh.”
In addition, her concept of vacuum-sealing the fresh meals to extend shelf life was a first in the industry. And when that created a need for a state-approved HACCP plan, she had to hire a Colorado consulting firm, because “nobody here knew what a HACCP plan was.”
All in all, Lewis has made enough tweaks to the meal-delivery business that she frequently gets inquiries from competitors hoping for some insight into modPALEO’s rapid success.
Today, modPALEO calls on over a dozen local producers to fill the neatly wrapped trays customers enjoy every day, and Lewis calculates 80% of their business dollars are spent locally, spreading about $250,000 annually among area farmers.
The energetic 39-year old with the ready laugh describes a surprisingly brief journey from entering the world of CrossFit exercise, learning the benefits of the paleo diet, and discovering a gift for cooking that would extract her from a corporate job.
By eating only ingredients available to our ancient ancestors, both she and husband Carter quickly noticed tangible health benefits. She lost the acid reflux that had plagued her for years, and he was able to quit his blood-pressure medication.
Not only that, but the food was delicious. Lewis’ home dinners led friends to offer her money for take-home versions, and eventually a business was born. Two months in, modPALEO’s customer base had jumped from three to sixty, and “within six months we hit 100,” she recalls.
In 2013, Lewis moved from a shared kitchen to a huge new space now housing processing, packaging and shipping functions.
Today, over 1200 customers order from the company’s website, sending Charlotte-area meat and produce across the country.
Lewis’ journey was sustained by community, from CrossFit enthusiasts to friends and family who helped the business grow. So it’s natural that she expresses real excitement at joining the Piedmont Culinary Guild, a community reflecting her support of locally raised foods.
“PCG is such a great resource for a small business owner,” she says, citing a local-food “no-man’s land” where she found herself, neither a farmer nor a chef. “It fills that void for me. It is chefs and farmers, but it’s also small business owners and artisans.”
“One of the things I really struggled with [in the beginning] was I had a really limited network. When I found a source that was reliable, I wasn’t looking any further, because I just didn’t have time.” Membership in the PCG has simplified that task, and as the company has grown, an extensive network has become a necessity. “We need so much [food] now, most of the time we can’t get it from one farmer. It has to come from several different places.”
The future looks rosy for this small business owner, and she is excited about the opportunity for mutual support offered by the PCG. Whether it’s GAP certification, HACCP plans or simply sourcing enough carrots, “We’re all just trying to figure it out now.”
And she’s found the community she needs to do just that.
Profile written by Alison Leininger