From Food Carts to Restaurant Dreams
By: Erin Van Genderen
For Joe Ban and Heather Hunter, their work is a culmination of their passions. They opened the first 100% Paleo-friendly food cart on the west coast in 2012 and called it the Cultured Caveman, and soon after opened two more carts around Portland, OR. Now, in combining their love for biochemistry, entrepreneurship, cooking and nutrition, and not to mention their affection for each other, Joe and Heather are making a move toward a brick-and-mortar Cultured Caveman restaurant in the Kenton neighborhood in the north section of Portland.
Much like their successful food carts around town, the restaurant will be committed to serving local, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, pastured poultry and seasonal and organic vegetables. The Cultured Caveman is revered for its chicken fingers and bacon wrapped dates, and breaks the conventional food cart mold with dishes like meatloaf with heart & liver, or a steaming cup of bone broth on the go. Imagine all of this – plus shelter from the elements, endless kombucha on tap, and tasty dishes like Zoodles and Grass-fed Meatballs, Lamb Curry over Cauliflower Rice, and Grain-Free Chicken and Waffles – smack dab in the middle of Portland.
But after all that success with the three Cultured Caveman food carts, why move to a stationary location?
“We have expanded quickly – three carts and a now a restaurant, all in less than three years – for lots of reasons,” Joe said. “Heather and I think that we are offering something of value to our community, and so by expanding we are benefiting the communities around us. We’ve expanded because we love the network that we’ve started to build all throughout the city of Portland, of nutrition nerds and people with various sensibilities, just like us. We’ve also expanded quickly because Heather and I have a very definite goal of starting a family together. We want to have as much freedom as possible to spend time with our children, so we are building a business large enough to support that dream.”
“Plus, I always wanted a brick-and-mortar to have the opportunity to sit down with our guests and create that community feeling that the carts lack, due partly to having no real seating area,” Heather said. “Once Joe was also convinced, we began to run the numbers.”
The number-crunching comes naturally to Heather, a 14-year veteran of the food service industry, reader of Harry Potter philosophical fan fiction, and a “business school dropout.” Joe has a background in biochemistry and loves learning and Olympic lifting.
“We want to be exceptionally responsible with all of our business debt and are paying it off well ahead of schedule,” Heather said. “On our own we could likely launch a restaurant in six months to a year. But then the space in Kenton became available. It’s one block from our house and in a neighborhood we are proud to live in and be a part of. We looked at other options throughout the city and none of them compared to the Kenton space or the lifestyle improvement living so close to work would offer us. We’ve secured that space using savings from the carts, and we’ve purchased most of the equipment needed. Getting the restaurant up and running has been a full-time job commitment for both Joe and I, while working at the carts full-time simultaneously.”
That’s where the current Kickstarter campaign comes into play.
With the Kickstarter backers’ assistance, Joe and Heather hope to raise enough money to acquire the industrial equipment and capital needed to get the Cultured Caveman restaurant off the ground, like a walk-in cooler, two freezers, a prep fridge, plates and silverware, and the first month’s inventory and operating costs.
“We’re ready to put in all the work to make this happen,” Heather said, “and we’ve put in most of the money required, but now we just need a little ‘kickstart’ to get this up and running sooner rather than later. It’s a massive risk for us, but we cannot wait to host a sweet ‘backers-only’ party, and we cannot wait to be serving up healthy food in a casual restaurant environment.”
At the time of writing, $14,482 had been pledged through 159 backers on Kickstarter. This is no small amount, but with a $30,000 goal and a deadline only 11 days away (Friday 3/28/14), the Cultured Caveman team is feeling the pressure.
But this is not Joe and Heather’s first rodeo. Back in April 2012 the duo raised $6,509 through a Kickstarter campaign to launch their first Cultured Caveman food cart. This happened in only 14 days.
As such, the fate of the Cultured Caveman restaurant rests in the hands of its fans. But regardless of the outcome of the Kickstarter campaign, Joe and Heather have felt no shortage of support from their local community and the Paleo community at large.
“We have been incredibly fortunate to have connected with so many amazing people through the food carts,” Heather said. “Many of our Paleo idols have visited with us and eaten our food! For the most part, though, our Portland Paleo community isn’t famous Paleo celebrity bloggers. They’re moms with young kids who are Celiac, or CrossFitters coming in for post-WOD fuel, people with multiple or severe allergies to gluten, soy, dairy or corn, or just neighbors of the carts, people with no Paleo affiliation at all but who just like tasty chicken tenders and bacon almond dates. With the restaurant opening approaching, we’ve seen all of these relationships we’ve developed over the past two years really come through, whether in people chipping in on the Kickstarter campaign or telling their social networks about us.”
The social media chatter is matched by real-life adoration of the Cultured Caveman food carts, and with good cause. Not only is the Cultured Caveman committed to wholesome nutrition, local sourcing and tasty food, but the business philosophy fosters community and connection – two things Joe and Heather are hoping the restaurant will embody.
“My business philosophy is to participate in as many win-win interactions with others as possible,” Joe said. “I love when someone comes to the cart, gets some food, and as they leave we both say ‘thank you’ at the same time. I want to say thank you because I’m so incredibly grateful that they want to support my business, and they think what I have to offer is worthwhile. They want to say thank you because they think that the food they’re getting is [worth it].”
Founded on a dream and fueled by driving passions – and plenty of Bulletproof Coffee and Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies – the Cultured Caveman restaurant is more than just a business venture for Joe and Heather; it’s a way of life.
“We are so excited to move forward on this restaurant,” Heather said. “It’s been a dream of ours for a good while now, and I can’t believe we are so close to achieving it. Like Joe said, at some point in the next few years, we want to start a family, and I would love nothing more than for our kids to grow up in Portland, living down the street from the family restaurant where they can play with dinosaurs, eat chicken tenders, and drink Bulletproof Hot Cocoa. Hello dream life!”
To support the dream, check out the Cultured Caveman Restaurant Expansion Kickstarter campaign, and follow along via Facebook or Twitter for updates about the campaign progress.
Erin R. Van Genderen is a freelance writer and creative foodie interested in traditional nutrition and health.