A Chef’s Recipe for Healthy Eating—and a Healthy Business

Pete’s Paleo ships its meals to health-conscious customers across the country.
(Photo: Courtesy Pete’s Paleo; illustration: Jessica De Jesus)
Delivered by UPSDelivered by UPS UPS
Aug 10, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Bekah Wright is a Los Angeles–based journalist who specializes in travel, entertainment, and lifestyle.

What do you do when you’re making too little money and working too many hours for a boss who knows less about the industry than you do?

For Pete Servold, the answer was easy: You stop complaining and find a new boss—you. In 2012, the Le Cordon Bleu–trained chef left a restaurant general manager job to start his own business, and he hasn’t looked back since.

His company, Pete’s Paleo, launched with $10,000 left over from his wedding fund. Today, the San Diego–based food delivery service has expanded nationally and has seen a 200 percent annual increase in business. Looking ahead, Servold sees no signs of the American appetite for his chef-prepared, ready-to-eat seasonal meals—also gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free—waning. Though the journey has been fun, he also values the tough decisions he’s had to make—most notably in finding the right partners for success.

As with most businesses in the ultracompetitive food industry, the difference between losing a customer and earning one for life can come down to one limp lettuce leaf or soggy carrot. With stakes this unforgiving, mediocre ingredients can make or break an entire dish—not to mention Servold’s business model. But how does a chef pay for top-notch ingredients when not charging top-notch restaurant prices?

Servold devotes a good amount of his working life engaging with local farmers and ranchers. “We’re very consistent in ordering from suppliers,” he says. “This has allowed them to grow—and we get consistent amounts of varied produce and meats at great prices.” In other words, he has earned loyalty by showing some. Vendors are more willing to send the good stuff your way if they know you’re on board to be a long-term partner.

(Photo: Courtesy Pete's Paleo)

When it comes to making good-tasting food, Servold recruits family and friends as secret customers. “The deal is, they have to be brutally honest, and sometimes it’s, well, brutal,” he says. “But we get better because we always can and always will.” Servold has plenty of best sellers (his signature dry-cured, nitrate-free bacon can be ordered up to 10 pounds at a time), but continual check-ins with focus groups ensure that products don’t get boring—key for wooing back customers.

As Pete’s Paleo grows, so does demand outside the San Diego area, and with it, quality control pitfalls. “When we first started shipping food, half the food wouldn’t arrive, and the other half showed up warm,” he remembers. “Our No. 1 problem has been marrying my knowledge of food with the technology of the website and shipping software.” It’s a common problem shared by successful entrepreneurs in any industry: How do you scale to meet growing demand without sacrificing quality?

(Photo: Courtesy Pete's Paleo)

With food, it’s especially tricky. Through trial and error, the company homed in on its fresh-delivery strategy. The meals are now packaged in BPA-free plastic bags and vacuum-sealed for maximum freshness, then shipped in insulated boxes with frozen gel packs. During the summer, dry ice is added to packages. Servold began working with UPS to develop a tracking service for freshness. A digital Wi-Fi thermometer is dropped into 10 percent of packages, monitoring temperature all the way to a customer’s doorstep.

(Photo: Courtesy Pete's Paleo)

“We even track weather patterns,” Servold says. “If there’s a heat spike, we’ll up the amount of dry ice. We get to nerd out about it, which is a lot of fun.” Though specialized packaging costs more, Pete’s Paleo doesn’t mark up its shipping rates—a commitment to quality for customers.

(Photo: Courtesy Pete's Paleo)

With finances solidly in the black, Servold doesn’t measure his success by dollars or deliveries alone. He counts his greatest business success as gaining back time for his family—“his greatest motivators.” His wife, Sarah, recently joined the business full-time, and his morning schedule regularly includes his favorite kind of meeting: a sunrise walk with his one-year-old daughter.