Ray and Shannon Allen have been staunch proponents of healthy eating for years. The former NBA star and his wife, the Pre-Game Meal author and TV host who whipped up meals to keep him great on the court longer than most, have been on a famously healthy diet for years. They also work hard as advocates in the fight against Type 1 Diabetes, which their son Walker suffers from. Now, they’ve upped the ante, taking the fight for quick, healthy food into their own hands by opening the tenth certified organic restaurant in the nation. The concept, called Grown, offers organic fast food that seeks to give busy moms and lunch-breakers alike something quick, clean and good. Haute Living sat down with them a few days before their big launch.
HL: How did you come up with the idea to do this?
SA: This restaurant came from a place of real frustration. Many times I found myself driving down the highway, pregnant with four kids in the car—one fast asleep, one with low blood sugar that needed to be fed—and none of the existing options were going to work for him. I didn’t want something frozen or microwaved. I thought, “Why can’t I get some organic chicken with vegetables, an unsweetened iced tea or cup of soup?” This isn’t rocket science!
HL: It’s one thing to have an idea; it’s another to act on it. How did you decide to go forward?
SA: We need to reinvent fast food, and I thought, “If nobody else has the balls to do this, I’m going to do it.” Ray has 100% supported it.
RA: I did. Truthfully though, everyone we talked to in the beginning told us it wouldn’t work. They said the restaurant business was too tough. But for us, this isn’t the restaurant business; it’s about eating right and living a better life. You shouldn’t have to lower your standard of eating when you leave the house and are on the go.
HL: I imagine now people are behind it.
SA: We’ve had people knocking on our door for weeks while we are finishing the restaurant.
RA: My Instagram followers have been watching this project progress, and they say “I want one in my city!” I think this neighborhood—and this country—is ready for this. Timing is so important; some different things come along and aren’t successful because people aren’t ready for them. Then, other times, you’re behind the ball because a trend already started.
HL: What is the coolest thing about Grown?
SA: We have a real chef in the kitchen, making everything fresh, on-site daily. There is a rooftop garden with greens and herbs that will come down to the kitchen via dumbwaiter, we have a living herb wall that kids can cut pieces off, and we have an interactive kids table. Oh, and we’re the tenth of only nine other certified organic restaurants in the country.
HL: Organic certification is tough. How did you decide to go for it?
SA: I felt if we didn’t do it, we wouldn’t really have the full confidence of the customer. This way, they don’t have to worry if there are antibiotics or hormones in the meat, GMOs or pesticides in the produce. When they walk in the door, they’ll know they are getting the highest-quality ingredients imaginable.
HL: Do you think this will change how people eat?
SA: The average American child age 3-17 hits the drive-through three times a week. It would be great if they could get healthier fare when they do.
RA: We’re trying to balance all of the bad options with some good ones. If you look at the average school cafeteria plate of kids in Japan, Great Britain and Europe, you’ll see why the obesity rate is so staggering in this country. So we want to start changing the food space, get this thing open and start feeding people. There are gluten-free pancakes, oatmeal and French toast sticks. I feel guilt-free eating all of it.
HL: All professional athletes pay some attention to their diet, but you seem to pay much more.
RA: I wanted to figure out how to eat the right way to get optimum performance, and I think I’ve been an example for a lot of players for that. I listened to the teams’ nutritionists, and I’ve taken some online nutrition courses—that was eye-opening! Once you start educating yourself about food, you start making decisions about what you will and will not eat… removing certain things because you want to be healthy. You don’t have control over everything, but with diet you can control your weight, how your skin looks, how we age. It’s so important.
HL: Speaking of basketball, everyone wants to know if Ray will come back, as he hasn’t really officially retired.
SA: Basketball is his first love, but there is so much more to Ray. He’s a philanthropist, actor, an incredible speaker, a great dad, and he’s writing a book right now. He’s got so many things he can do well, I don’t know if this is the end or not.