Peter Emil Nielsen is on a mission to take healthy fast food to the world, the Paleao way. His chain of Palaeo – Primal Gastronomi restaurants dominates the market in Denmark, but he has much bigger plans for the brand; “My dream with this is McDonalds. I mean I definitely believe that if I do it properly and I get the right team around me I can do it.”
Chatting to Emil in his Pilestræde store, in the heart of Copenhagen’s trendy shopping district, he oozes ambition and seemingly the energy to back it up. We are seated amid the lunch rush with people piling in the door behind me. It seems everyone from immaculately dressed corporates to fashionistas and the CrossFit crowd have caught the Paleo eating bug.
For Emil, the inspiration came over lunch with a friend, “We were sitting at a restaurant and he (my friend) was pulling out his croutons from a salad and he started talking about it (Paleo) and this little light went off.”, Emil explains. A born entrepreneur, Emil wasn’t new to the business world when he opened his first Palaeo store three years ago. At 22, he and a friend started a catering company, but after realising they would be relegated to spending their days in a basement office behind a keyboard, picking through a sad looking lunch, he was soon looking for a venture he could pour his heart and passion for business into.
Fast forward just a few years and he opened the first of five branches of his Palaeo chain at just 26 years old,“I’m pretty sure we were the first (Paleo) chain..we were the first to jump out.” Emil says. Three years on and Paleo cafes remain a rare find in Denmark. Paleo eating hasn’t caught on in Denmark the way it has in the U.S. and Australia, just yet. So Emil is essentially enjoying a monopoly in Denmark’s potentially explosive primal fast food market.
Copenhagen is a city where you often find yourself priced out of buying a simple and nutritious lunch at a cafe, with most menu price points closer to a Michelin star than a McDonalds restaurant. Palaeo helps to fill that gap. The Palaeo concept is simple; “The people who eat here aren’t people who eat paleo full time. Most people come here because it’s good food and it’s fast..Getting something that tastes good but without having to wait you know half an hour, 45 minutes at a cafe. Food on the go that’s healthy is the key idea behind it.”
It is that demand for fast food on-the-go that sparked an expansion of the brand into ready made products too, like their Ginger Shots. “I love ginger. One thing I don’t like though is cleaning a juice machine.” The answer? A shot of fresh ginger with beetroot or apple juice in a tiny take away bottle. The shots are now stocked in 7-Eleven 191 stores around Denmark. They have proven to be so popular that he has just released a third flavour, the Vita-C (red pepper, grape and lemon).
As a Paleo-style eater, I was salivating over the menu. I think it was a combination of excitement and relief that I wouldn’t have to weed through a menu or a dish when it arrived at the table. That can be especially disconcerting when you’re paying Danish dining prices.
The Palaeo menu covers everything from wraps (egg or egg white wraps filled with rich slow cooked meat and tasty sauce), fresh chicken or salmon salads with a twist, fresh juices in all the colours of the rainbow and coffees from a simple espresso to a Bulletproof hit. If you aren’t sure whether you can give up that thick Danish bread for an egg wrap, go for a heartier signature dish. Palaeo has taken a few family favourites and reinvented them in a Paleo style. There’s the Bolo (a take on spaghetti bolognese), Kylling Karry (coconut chicken curry), Bernaise Meatza (a double meat pattie with onion, spinach and lashings of Paleo bernaise sauce). Of course, it wouldn’t be Denmark without a good hot dog. The Palaeo Dog is made from their home made pure meat sausage, enveloped in an egg wrap, with some onion and a creamy sauce. We tried the open wrap, the Palaeo Dog and a Spinach juice and they were all delicious.
It’s easy to see why the brand attracting a lot of interest. But Emil wants to play it smart. “I’ve been contacted by 13 different individuals who wanted to franchise all around the world. Two of them were from Australia…I’ve said no to them all because I’m young and I’ve made mistakes and I wasn’t ready. If I franchise I lose control, If I lose control people can hurt my brand and I have too much invested in it right now.” he explains.
The perfect model for a success healthy food chain is right on Nielsen’s doorstep; “I want to do what Joe and the Juice has done. I want to do that. I need to do that.” Joe & the Juice is a Danish juice and smoothie company founded by Kaspar Basse 13 years ago. The trademark pink logo pops up on street corners in Denmark like Starbucks. They now have 104 stores around the world, having just broken into the New York market with their first store in the Big Apple. It’s the same success that Nielsen hopes for with Palaeo. I asked him whether world domination was the end goal, his grinned and simply said, “The goal and aim one day is to press turbo. We’ll see.”
I for one, will be keenly watching the further rise of Palaeo. Having met the man behind the brand, I experienced the concept first hand, I can only hope he chases down those golden arches and the wave of healthy fast food continues to grow.
Palaeo – Primal Gastronomi
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Skye is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fit Traveller.
She is a journalist, writer, photographer, intrepid traveller and a former personal trainer with a passion for helping others reach optimal health.
As a TV journalist and producer, Skye has worked for household names such as 60 Minutes, Sunrise, TODAY and Nine News. She has also written for Women’s Health, Fodor’s Travel and Yahoo7 Travel, among many others.
Equally comfortable in a 5-star resort or hiking a far-off mountain, Skye loves the unexpected and enriching life experiences that each trip brings and can often be found in a backstreet chatting to locals with her camera in hand.
Skye is based in Sydney, working to master the balance between motherhood and her appetite for adventure.
Read more about Skye’s story here.