Order Up, Chico!

Photo by Michaela Warthen

Freshly Made Dinner at your Doorstep

Is the battle for a fresh healthy dinner feeling impossible to win? Many eaters have discovered the convenience of shopping online for their meals—and Chico residents needn’t resort to the national meal delivery services. Four Chico companies provide a variety of super convenient, fresh, healthy, and flavorful meal options that they deliver right to your door in microwavable, freezable, biodegradable, compartmented containers. Eaters need only peruse what the companies’ menus offer, place an order, and enjoy food made by these local chefs.

These businesses have arrived as part of a bigger dining revolution taking place across America. Combat veterans might recall the MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) provided them by the military, but those ready-to-eat rations of yesteryear are all grown up. Instead of a vacuum-sealed bags of freeze-dried beef patties (aka “Hockey Pucks”) and vegetables, today’s MREs are brimming with fresh, local, and often organic ingredients. These are delicious, customized offerings prepared by experienced chefs and delivered directly to eaters, whether as meal kits or meals delivered. National companies providing meal kits—like Blue Apron and Purple Carrot—deliver recipes, fresh ingredients, and seasonings to recipients’ front porches, and the recipient cooks the meals at home. Meal delivery from services like Freshly and Pre-Made Paleo provides ready to heat and eat meals overnight shipped to your home. One more niche is mail order delivery of meals in smoothie form from places like Green Blender and Daily Harvest. According to a 2017 report from Pentallect, a food consulting firm based in Chicago, the meal kit and meal delivery industry is now valued at $2.2 billion nationally and gaining momentum. The report predicts growth of thirty percent per year over the next five years.

Move over, nationals! The Chico companies, Heirloom Food Company, To Eat Better (TEB), Chico Creek Paleo Co., and Health3 Meal Prep Service, are local reps of this national trend. Chicoans who crave the convenience and deliciousness of freshly made food and also want to support local businesses, including area farms, can go local.

Heirloom Food Company

Chef and owner of Heirloom Foods, Sean Paul Mindrum, a Chico native, left town in 1980 and attended California Culinary Academy. He has worked under Wolfgang Puck, Seattle-based chef Tom Douglas, and Napa Valley’s Cindy Pawlcyn. He was a private chef to Donatella Versace and has cooked in kitchens from New York to Hawaii. Several years ago, while living in Los Angeles, Sean reconnected with his Chico Junior High School sweetheart. The choice to come home was easy, for love—and also for some of the best produce in the state. Sean realized that much of the produce sourced through a distributer to southern California came from Butte County farms. “GRUB Farms and Comanche Creek are two of them,” Mindrum noted, naming two of the organic farms in Chico that he sources from. “As a chef, being able to have the best fresh products allows Mother Nature to do ninety percent of the work, and I am just a facilitator.”

Mindrum started Heirloom Food Company two years ago and each week delivers close to 200 fresh, local, organic meals to business clients, sororities, busy professionals. “We have one feisty and fun client who is ninety-nine years old, doesn’t want to cook, and calls in her orders every week,” he said. Delivery can come three times/week, the most of any of our local providers. Menus change every two to three weeks and demand keeps increasing. People place their orders online or by phone, giving twenty-four hours notice to allow Mindrum time to prepare their choices. Heirloom Foods’ $20 minimum includes delivery, and all items cost less than $15.00. Choices on the menu include soup, salads, wraps, and a large variety of dinner entrees from roasted honey garlic chicken to vegetable Pad Thai. People can request adjustments to any of the dishes according to dietary restrictions simply by dictating preferences like vegan, paleo, dairy free, low sodium, “whatever you choose,” Mindrum said.

Heirloom Food dishes are also currently sold at “It’s a Grind” and may be on offer in more local stores around town soon. Mindrum promised, “I want to have food available for anyone who wants something fresh. People should be able to have healthy food on the fly for a reasonable cost.”

To Eat Better, TEB

Ali Emdadian and Reza Soleymani, the founders of TEB, To Eat Better, met by chance in October of 2015. Reza was on his first outing as a newly minted Uber driver and Ali was his first customer. The two men with Persian heritage made an instant connection and friendship that a year ago, grew into a business. In Farsi, the word teb means knowledge of medicine as related to food. The word captures their belief that food is medicine for the body. Emdadian, a pharmacist, gets frustrated at having to dispense so many unnecessary medications. “There are a lot of conditions and irritations that can be eliminated, slowed down, and improved by the food we eat,” he said. His training in herbal medicine and study of natural anti-inflammatory foods combined with Soleymani’s twelve years in the food industry set the table for TEB.

The recipes for their meals are created jointly with a majority of locally sourced, organic, and non-gmo ingredients. TEB’s niche is vegan meals, with plant-based proteins, and the secret, the owners aver, is in their sauces. “That is where the major nutrition is,” said Soleymani.  The label on each meal lists ingredients as well as potential health benefits, as one example, “powerful anti-aging and anti-depressant, manages blood pressure and improves memory.” Soleymani has worked in Dubai, Asia, Turkey, and Eastern Europe and so has experienced a wide variety of seasonings. Emdadian said that Soleymani has a special palate. “He is amazing with flavor combinations, many of which just come into his mind, and we then create them together.” They want people to learn about one another through food and “not label food by ethnicity.” Said Emdadian, “We can connect through a gastronomical experience that is healthy and collaborative.”

TEB charges $12 per meal and offers a six-ounce tonic for $3. The entrepreneurs describe the tonic as unique, made with only whole fresh ingredients, including aloe vera, basil, lime, rose water, and chia seeds. There is no minimum order and the cost includes delivery. Each week offers one meal option, and many customers order multiples of it. Currently serving individuals and a few doctors’ offices, TEB’s business is growing, and the feedback has been fulfilling. One client called asking if there was caffeine in the food because he was feeling so energized. According to Emdadian, “It’s because this kind of fuel burns clean and is energizing.” Emdadian and Soleymani are full of optimism about the future of TEB. “We are trying to create a market, and making and delivering our food to our customers brings satisfaction and brightness to our hearts,” said Emdadian. It also fulfills their “genuine, loving intention of bringing healing energy through food to our customers.”

Chico Creek Paleo Co.

Chico Creek Paleo Co. began delivering meals in Chico in early 2017. Owners Tami Knight and Robert Mortaloni both have long loved quality food preparation. Mortaloni has been a chef for twenty-eight years and worked under renowned chef Julia Child. Knight previously owned a bed and breakfast hunting lodge on the east coast. Chico Creek Paleo offers an all organic, gluten-free, and paleo diet made up of meat, vegetables, and proteins; the food is also free of sugar, processed ingredients, and eggs. “We only use local produce and grass-fed meat. Chico has an abundance of fresh foods available, and we shop exclusively at S & S Produce,” Knight said.

Given their goal to help people eat and be healthier, Chico Creek Paleo adapts their recipes to meet special diets as requested. “I cater to our customers and make sure the food is prepared for them the way they need it.” Knight continued, “We have had people tell us our food is life changing. They were able to get their life back in health.” She pointed to one customer with an auto-immune disorder who has had major improvement in her condition since eating their paleo diet.

The pair prepares about 200 meals per week and offers six different menu choices that regularly rotate on their website. For example, one week offered herb roasted chicken, slow braised pork shoulder, or roast sirloin, among other menu items. Their business is based out of Upper Park Cross Fit Gym, and many of their customers are members. Like the other food delivery businesses in Chico, they also serve many clients who are just too busy to cook and are looking for healthy convenience, from college students to elders. The meals are $12.50 each or five meals for $65.00, which most people choose, according to Knight. Meals are delivered to the gym on Mondays, and home delivery comes with a small additional fee.

Health3 Meal Prep Service

The newest kid on the block is Health3 Meal Prep Service. Valerie Wong and Ryan Hamilton began delivering meals to Chicoans in mid-2017. These young food entrepreneurs are mixed martial arts fighters and Spartan obstacle course racers. As part of their fitness regime, Wong and Hamilton eat a clean diet consisting of whole food free of preservatives, additives, pesticides, and unhealthy fats. Wong began preparing their weekly meals in advance, meals loosely based on the popular “Whole 30 Diet,” which emphasizes clean protein, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats. When friends found out about their meals and became interested, the business was born. Wong said, “We are constantly trying new recipes and trying to adapt. We want to keep everything very fresh and grow at a slow pace.”

Health3 is named after the number of food groups in their meals; the three words in their motto, “Fresh, Quality Ingredients and Nutrition Dense”; and a play on the word “healthy.” The company charges a flat rate of $10.00 for prepared meals available for pick up twice weekly. (Home delivery costs $5.00 extra.) Customers fill in an order form for each meal, selecting chicken or steak, choosing two of five veggie offerings, and one of three carbs. Hamilton, who has his degree in kinesiology from Chico State, said that the oil that is used in cooking is key. “We mainly use avocado oil, which is really good for you,” he said. Many customers are members of the gym where Hamilton works, J and S Strength and Conditioning. In the short amount of time Health3 has been in business, numerous customers attribute improved health and fitness to Health3’s meals, including one of their first customers, who, in combination with exercise, improved his Spartan Race time by two hours. 

Happy Meals

Extravagant health claims aside, Chico eaters keep these chef-prepared meals coming into their kitchens. Whether they prefer freshly made gourmet, vegan, Paleo, or Whole 30, customers of these meal delivery services put fresh, healthy, often locally sourced meals on their tables. And they return because of the flavor too. As Valerie Wong said, “Eating what your body needs makes it happy.”

For Sean Mindrum’s local, seasonal meals, order online at https://www.chicoheirloomfoodco.com or check out the offerings there and phone in your order. For Paleo meals, see the choices at https://www.chicocreekpaleoco.com/ and phone in your order. For the vegan meals from TEB Pantry and from Health3 Meal Prep Service, contact the chefs through the companies’ Facebook pages.

Michaela Warthen is a freelance graphic designer and photographer based inChico. She loves hiking, cats, and eating sushi. warthenphoto.smugmug.com