"I've been on a food journey my entire life," says Jennifer Peters. That journey led to Just Be Kitchen, the gluten-free, grain-free company that Peters founded in 2015 as a packaged-food business. But the business will soon add a fast-casual restaurant, too: Peters recently signed a lease at 2364 15th Street — that's the former Mona's space — where she hopes to open Just Be Kitchen by the end of March.
Peters's vision began while she was working on her MBA at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. She had been vegetarian for seventeen years and a vegan for two, but something was missing. "I was going backwards in terms of nutrition and health," she recalls.
After dropping gluten, grains and processed sugars from her diet, though, everything clicked; Peters incorporated her newfound love of quality natural foods into her studies. And with the encouragement of a mentor in the food-service industry, she built a business plan for a fast-casual restaurant where "people can come in and feel nourished and cared for."
The packaged-food side of the business was initially meant just to get the ball rolling, Peters explains; she didn't think many of the almond-flour-based treats would sell. But sales took off, giving her the extra time it turned out she would need to find the right home for her restaurant. "Mona's was the 56th or 57th letter of intent we signed," she says of the arduous process of locating a restaurant space for lease in the hot Denver market.
The other piece of the puzzle was finding a chef who could execute breakfast and lunch dishes for paleo and gluten-free customers, along with those with other dietary requirements. "It's not hard to cook healthy food, but it's hard to cook it in an interesting way," Peters notes.
Then she found Carrie Baird, who was working at Brazen in West Highland; in addition to her duties as executive chef, Baird was hosting a weekly paleo dinner there. Peters knew she was the right person for both the business and cooking sides of the job. "Carrie understands it from a commercial standpoint and a culinary standpoint," she explains.
The two began collaborating on menu ideas just over a year ago and came up with a roster divided into several "Just Be" categories: Just Be Awakened for breakfast, Just Be Naughty for cookies and other desserts, and Just Be Satisfied for entrees, for example. And while the general guidelines for recipe development follow the basics of the paleo diet (as pioneered by Colorado State University professor Loren Cordain), Peters notes that she has been inspired by multiple writers in the field (including Mark Sisson and Robb Wolf). "We don't want to tell people how to eat," she says. "We want the menu to be a celebration. It's a celebration of food and joyful eating."
While the kitchen will be 100 percent gluten-free and will also be free of grains and processed table sugar, grass-fed meats, pastured eggs and vibrant cooking oils and spices will be part of the program. Dairy will be kept to a minimum, but there will be cream for coffee and a few raw-milk cheeses as options on burgers and other items. Baird and Peters are also planning a bone-broth bar with multiple add-in toppings available.
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Just Be Kitchen will initially open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week, with the eventual goal of adding dinner hours. And Peters eventually hopes to expand the concept, with a goal of twenty outposts of the homey, welcoming eatery over the next ten years. While the opening of her first is still a few months away, Just Be products can be found at coffee shops and fitness studios around town and can also be purchased on the Just Be Kitchen website.