NewBrook Kitchen’s Paleo Project

Cutting out carbs, going on juice cleanses, and sipping on several cups of bone broth each day are just a few of the diets that have been popularized in recent years. Though it may be easy to dismiss the paleo diet as another one of the restrictive fads adopted by people simply hoping to trim their waistlines, many who commit to the paleo diet do so to benefit from a healthier lifestyle or as a way to handle food sensitivities caused by certain diseases.

In Westport, Conn., the paleo diet helped one mother-daughter culinary team find relief from autoimmune disease symptoms – and create a safe haven for others dealing with dietary restrictions.

“It was quite incredible that we were diagnosed with different autoimmune diseases within a few months of each other,” says Cindy Hartog, who owns NewBrook Kitchen with her daughter, Danielle Hartog. “We found it challenging to find places that served flavorful foods in a chic setting, [that were] still healthful for us.”

That difficulty inspired the Hartogs to open a paleo café in June 2017, though it wasn’t their first foray into the culinary world. Both attended culinary school, and before opening NewBrook, collaborated on Cindy’s Sous Chefs, a cooking class and private event company. After their diagnoses, the mother-daughter duo – who have always shared a “passion for food and cooking” – decided to solve their lack of safe dining options by starting their own paleo café.

“While we are both professionally trained in classical French cooking, our health issues motivated us to modify our cooking techniques,” says Cindy. “We always discussed that we needed to open a place that would fulfill this need for ourselves and the others like us. We just had no idea how many others like us there were out there!”

Paleo Goes Gourmet

At NewBrook, Danielle is the head chef and Cindy is the baker and dessert chef. All of the recipes at NewBrook are created by Danielle and do not include corn, gluten, milk, or soy; an emphasis is also placed on sourcing food that is humane, organic, and sustainable.

“When people come in and ask our favorites, it’s tough to respond because we personally love everything,” says Cindy. “Our best-selling items are the turkey burger wrapped in bacon with a maple mustard glaze and avocado, our NewBrook avocado toast, and our 22-hour, house-smoked pulled pork. We also have four kinds of paleo cookies baking in-house that are very popular.”

Cindy finds operating the paleo café rewarding because of the support and gratitude she and her daughter receive from patrons with food intolerances and dietary restrictions.

“Not only do we get to do what we love on a daily basis, but we are told over and over again how appreciated we are by people who have done without this experience for a long time,” says Cindy. “We’ve had a number of people with celiac practically hug us because they are fearful every time they eat out.”

Before they opened NewBrook, there was some concern that a paleo café, which many would consider a niche business concept, wouldn’t succeed – but Cindy and Danielle soon discovered the demand for paleo cooking exists in Westport and beyond.

“We were so concerned that it was too small a market that we didn’t promote the ‘paleo’ aspect of our food initially,” says Cindy. “When we opened, and we saw people driving hours just to get to us specifically for the paleo food, we realized that we needed to let everyone know that we were a paleo establishment.”

Because paleo cafés are still a relatively new concept and the paleo diet itself is often misunderstood, advertising NewBrook as a paleo establishment may potentially scare away diners who are unfamiliar with the diet.

“There are so many misconceptions. People think our food is vegan [or] they think it’s going to be tasteless,” says Cindy. “Our food is incredibly flavorful, creative, and satisfying. We have had many diners come in and be pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, there are still those people who hear paleo or gluten-free and will not even step in the door. That is disappointing to us, but we hope they will give us a try.”

As Americans continue to seek out healthier food options, paleo cafés and other restaurants catering to more specialized diets offer unique dining opportunities.

“I think more and more people are realizing the connection between health and what we eat,” says Cindy. “People also realize that it is important to spend a little more on things that better you both physically and emotionally.”

Ariana Keller
Ariana Keller

Ariana Keller was raised on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in south Alabama, where she learned to fish and love football. She moved to Knoxville with her family when she was 12 and later graduated from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor's degree in English. She spends her free time playing tabletop and video games and passionately rooting for mediocre sports teams. She is an advocate for animal rescue and lives in Knoxville with her husband and their two adopted pets: a hound dog named Beau and a Maine Coon mix named Vesper.