Kelly Boyer was diagnosed with cancer at age 21. It taught her that everything she puts into her body matters. And it led her to founding PALETA, the first farm to table meal company.
“Our sensibilities were based on the knowledge that what you put into your body really matters,” Kelly says. Everything we do is guided by our philosophies to do the right thing for people and our planet. For us, this means we are very committed to ongoing learning about what is nutritionally sound for our bodies and that we do everything we can to mitigate our carbon footprint.”
And PALETA Is snot just another home meal delivery service. It offers the widest array of meal programs to suit any individual. Customizable meal programs include liver detoxes, Paleo/gluten-free, vegan, Mediterranean, Keto, pregnancy, healthy energy snacks and their latest, an anti-inflammatory meal program.
PALETA’s gourmet food with a healthy twist is loved by a massive following of Hollywood elite including Jessica Biel, Nia Long and Sarah Paulson (among many others!). They’ve also been featured by Shape, Details and Fab Fit Fun. They are committed to using sustainable produce and prepare meats and fish in the first certified green commercial kitchen in Los Angeles.
Learn more about Kelly’s career story, how she built such a go-to brand from scratch and what it takes to work in the food industry. Plus, Kelly is offering I Want Her Job readers 20% off their PALETA purchase with code HERJOB20 through the end of March.
What motivated you to create and launch PALETA?
There were a few factors that built up over time. My cancer diagnosis at age 21 definitely changed the course of my life and how I live it. I’m just a nice Polish girl from the Midwest who was weaned on sausages and fried foods with ranch dressing! The illness changed all of that and my entire family began to weave the thread of health and fitness throughout the fabric of all our lives. Once I was healthy, I had a great career in human resources after attending grad-school in Chicago at Northwestern/Kellogg. I almost exclusively worked for entrepreneurial companies that were building new brands or starting new divisions or were being built from the ground up. I became passionate about building things. I ultimately left corporate America to take some time off and ended up enrolling in culinary school.
After graduating from culinary school at a classical French cuisine program, I was not looking or feeling my best. After a year and a half of making beautiful creations with butter and cream, I felt lethargic, had gained weight, and was feeling sluggish and achy. I started seeing a nutritionist to help me get back on track and started to teach myself how to apply my newly honed cooking skills to make more healthful fare.
Friends started seeing the results and asked me what I was doing. When I explained how I was now eating, they asked if I would do the same for them. It started with a few close friends and then they started referring their friends, physicians, personal trainers, dietitians, co-workers, etc., to me and I excitedly took them on.
I started out of my own home doing all the menu planning, nutrition counseling, shopping, cooking and plating the food. Then I’d toss my dog Dexter (PALETA’s unofficial mascot) into my truck and we would deliver the meals all around Los Angeles at 2 a.m. I quickly outgrew my own kitchen and moved into a few rental kitchens over the course of 2 years until I could purchase and build my own kitchen to allow for real growth. It was a happy accident with no business plan! But, it was the perfect fit for me as it met my great need and desire to help people lead healthier, more enriched lives through better eating.
I eventually became licensed as a nutritionist to have an even deeper understanding of how and what is best to eat. Because of my own life path, I truly believe that a healthier lifestyle saved my life. I know that what you put into your body really matters. And because of my love of food, I knew I could create clean recipes that put a healthy twist on haute cuisine.
And before that, what nudged you to transition your career from human resources to the culinary world?
I retired from corporate America just six weeks after 9-11. The events of that day, as with so many other people, rocked me to the core and jolted me into realizing I was no longer spending my time in a way that felt purposeful or satisfying to me. I had loved my career for so long, and then very quickly made the realization it was time for something new. I had no idea what that was going to be. I moved back to Venice from San Francisco and took on the task of renovating my home for the next 6 months. I quite honestly enrolled in an 18-month culinary program because I had always loved to cook, but wanted to be great at it. I never intended it to be a business. It was a happy accident!
Life can throw curveballs in the most unexpected ways, and it threw you one when you were diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 21. What is something that experience taught you that shifted your perspective? And how does this shift apply to your work today?
First and foremost, it taught me that everything I put into my body matters. I learned the value of clean nutrition and the dramatically negative impacts poor nutrition can reap on your body, mind and soul. I grew up in the Midwest and while my mom always had a huge garden of fresh fruits and vegetables and was a phenomenal cook, it doesn’t mean I was really aware of how to eat right. Let’s face it, I ate a lot of fried foods dipped in ranch dressing back in the day!
I now live and breathe with the knowledge that our body is our temple and we have to love it, nourish it, care for it because no one else is going to do it for you. Secondly, facing a life-threatening illness at such a young age gave me the awareness that I really wanted to live loud and large. I want to see everything. Do everything. Go everywhere. It’s not a case of FOMO, but more about reveling in the joy that comes with experiencing new things. I love change, new things and new places, and I truly believe that life is an adventure to be lived with passion and purpose.
What is the part of your job that gets you excited to come to work every day?
I am most rewarded and fulfilled by the direct feedback we get from clients. Because we’re a meal delivery service, I rarely get to meet my clients face-to-face and thus greatly value any contact I can have with them. When I hear from a client that they’ve achieved a nutrition goal, or they’re off their cholesterol medicine for the first time in 30 years, or they’re a cancer patient and we’re helping them with their nutrition during treatment … that is the validation I seek. That is where the pleasure and reward is. I’m not really interested in creating food that itself is not purposeful for your overall health and well-being. And, of course, my PALETA team is so strong. They have a passion for what they do that is contagious even on my most difficult days. They keep me on my game.
What part of your work can stress you out the most? Have you found any methods that help for dealing with this?
I’m a slightly compulsive perfectionist who owns a business with an extremely complicated operational model. We don’t just put out one kind of salad on any given day. Because we customize our meals and snacks to ensure clients are getting exactly what they want and need, we have to do sometimes countless versions of the same dish. Image a room of 500 Cobb salads. Ten clients want no egg, another 20 clients want no beets, another 30 clients want shrimp instead of chicken, and so on… That grid of offerings can be mind-bending to ensure we get it right. Frankly, my PALETA team won’t even let me near the Food Plating & Design room anymore. It almost makes me dizzy with the complexity of it all. We’ve all happily agreed my services are desired and needed elsewhere.
What is something about your job that you want others to know about?
The food business is not for everyone. I can tout its advantages and upsides all day long, but anyone interested in the culinary world needs to understand that it’s not glamorous. Celebrity chefs and TV food channels color the actual business of food. Whenever anyone tells me they want to be a chef or start a food business I always beg them to make sure they work at a restaurant or food production facility of any kind before even considering it. You’ll likely be washing dishes for 6 months before you even get to touch food that hasn’t been mauled on a plate. It’s a long road to a successful career and just because you love food and entertaining family and friends, it doesn’t mean your passion or hobby should become your life’s work. In fact, it could sour you on it. Tread carefully with your eyes wide open.
What are some future goals for PALETA?
We are actually just launching a new 2-Phase Anti-Inflammatory meal program called FIX that I’ve been working on for the past year. One of my passions is ongoing learning, especially in my field of health, food and fitness. I continue to feed my brain more information on functional medicine to better meet the needs of my clients and myself. I have a lot of long-term physical effects from cancer treatment, and so I have chronic inflammation myself and have been working for a long time on how to best manage it. The more I learn the more convinced I am that eating clean, whole foods and making good diet and lifestyle choices are the ideal ways to offset inflammation, which contributes to diseases and a whole host of serious health issues. Most of my meal plans originated with serving my own health needs and then, once tried and tested, we launch it for my client base. I’m basically a human guinea pig for all programs. We will continue to be on the leading edge of what’s happening in the nutrition and fitness space to stay ahead of the curve for our clients.
What advice do you have for others looking to make a career transition? What should they keep in mind?
Jump in! Of course, that’s easy to say, because we all have life, financial commitments and obligations, but if you have the opportunity to make a change and you feel you’re ready … do it. This is our one shot, at least in this lifetime, to live our lives the way we want to. For me, doing the same thing for the rest of my lifetime is unthinkable. I thrive on change. But making a career change requires a great deal of self-awareness and self-confidence. You need to be very self-actualized about what your skill sets are and are not, and you need to be able to fill in those gaps. I found, as I think most people will, that when I was learning something new and had a huge challenge of starting my business in front me, I was completely invigorated and open to the new possibilities. It can give your life such a boost of energy; it certainly has for me.
Any parting advice?
I think in business I would say to set your standards higher than everyone else. Be the most service oriented. Behave with the most integrity. Create the best products or services, and don’t ever let that wane. It will feed your mind and soul.
On a more personal level, I would say to be the kindness you want to see in the world. We live in a pretty loud time. Everyone has a voice, and even the negative voices you don’t want or need to hear can make their way into your reality. Everything is moving so fast. So, take deep breaths when you’re out in the world and the checkout person is rude to you. Give a stranger the benefit of the doubt because you don’t know what their situation is or where they’re coming from. Take the high road and be kinder and gentler to … everyone. And, to be clear, I’m a work in progress on this one!
I’d love to have coffee with:
Regina King. She’s a PALETA client, and her work over the last several years has so inspired me. I had a cocktail with her once at a PALETA event and it was not enough time.
The books on my nightstand are:
David Sedar’s Calypso, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Laura Hillebrand’s Seabiscuit
My current favorite saying, or mantra, is:
There is nothing worse than normal!
My favorite way to spend my day off is:
It’s all about the dogs, yoga, family … or hopping on a plane to go anywhere.
One lesson I’ve learned lately is:
I need to be nicer and gentler with myself. Self-criticism is worse than anything external.
I can’t live without:
My family. Through good and bad, I’d be lost without them.
I feel my best when:
I’m consistently taking care of myself through good food, good sleep, and plenty of mind and body nurturing activities like yoga and really long walks with my man and pooch.
Set your standards higher than everyone else. Be the most service oriented. Behave with the most integrity. Create the best products or services, and don’t ever let that wane. It will feed your mind and soul.