In today’s episode, we speak with Kelly Newlon, co-owner of Real Athlete Diets (RAD), a catering company based in Boulder, CO that focuses on feeding ultra-endurance athletes and outdoor enthusiasts with delicious, performance-oriented food.
Kelly is an avid runner and has also cooked in professional kitchens since she was a teenager. She combined her love for sport and culinary arts to create RAD with her husband Morgan.
Listen as we chat with Kelly about her passion for ultra trail running, making cakes for Julia Child, attending culinary school, and how she fuels endurance athletes with food.
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Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. In today’s episode, I’m speaking with Kelly Newlon, co-owner of Real Athlete Diets, or RAD, a catering company that focuses on feeding ultra-endurance athletes and outdoor enthusiasts with delicious, performance-oriented food. Kelly is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has been cooking in professional kitchens since she was a teenager. In her career, she has been fortunate enough to make two birthday cakes for Julia Child. Kelly is an avid runner and passionate about giving back to the Boulder community as often as possible.
Join me today as I chat with Kelly about embracing her passion for ultra-running and trail running to create RAD with her husband Morgan.
And there she is! Good morning, Kelly. How are you?
Kelly Newlon: Hey Kirk, I’m doing great. So nice to see you.
Kirk Bachmann: It’s good to see you, too. Can I just say you look phenomenal! Good summer, looks like, for you.
Kelly Newlon: Thank you. Yeah. Summer’s always full of good stuff. The active schedule keeps me active and out in the sun, so it feels good.
Kirk Bachmann: And in the sun at like 10, 11, 12,000 feet, probably.
Kelly Newlon: Extreme sun, as you know.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it. For our audience, where are you sitting right now? You’re at 6-7000 feet, maybe?
Kelly Newlon: We are at .
Kirk Bachmann: Whoa! I did not realize that.
Kelly Newlon: Yeah, so sunscreen nonstop. We’re up pretty high. We’re in Boulder County, but we’re up one of the canyons in Boulder County. We sit above a little town called Jamestown about 250 people.
Kirk Bachmann: And you know them all.
Kelly Newlon: There are some pretty great characters. Then we’re about three miles from the Peak to Peak highway. The highest point on that highway is about 9000 feet. We’re pretty close to that.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it. People are going to figure out pretty quickly that we’ve met. We’ve had the great pleasure of working together a little bit here in boulder. I’m so appreciative. This is your busy time. If anyone follows you on social media, we know how busy you are, so thank you very, very much for chatting this morning. First and foremost, while we miss you here on the campus, having a front row see to watch what you and Morgan have accomplished with RAD is really wonderful. So first and foremost, congratulations on all the success. Seven years now you’ve been rocking this? Seven and a half?
Kelly Newlon: Somewhere between seven and eight. 2014. I was still teaching when we started. I might have taught for a solid year while we got RAD going. You’ve got to pay the mortgage. That was quite difficult.
Kirk Bachmann: I still have my RAD t-shirt and I’ve ordered my RAD baseball cap because I’m a big baseball fan. I’m going to make reference to a lot of social media because I’m obsessed with social media. Happy belated birthday.
Kelly Newlon: End of June.
Kirk Bachmann: June. Okay.
Kelly Newlon: June 25, I turned 52.
Kirk Bachmann: No! No! Really? Happy birthday. I’m just a couple of feet away from my 60th coming up on the 1st. Look for a lot of stuff on Insta for sure.
Kelly Newlon: I will.
Kirk Bachmann: I love all the chit-chat. Did I see a Sprinter van on one of your pages? Is that a new addition to the family?
Kelly Newlon: Not yet. I had this big project that I did in the San Juans. Just outside of Durango in the Silverton area at a hut. It was about 11,500 feet. It was a really incredible organization called Footprints Running Camp. The founder is an ultra-trail runner called Dakota Jones. It was 24 people all working towards how to help set the table for the next generation of trail runners to help the environment. Truly help it, not just pick up some trash, but start 501(c)(3)s and really make it a part of their lives.
I was up at this hut with them, 24 people. I thought, “Gosh. This is a really big job.” It was eight or nine days, three meals a day, plus snacks because they’re professional runners, so they eat just nonstop. I needed a lot of stuff. It was over 400 meals in total. Also, at the end of the long, 15-hour days with fantastic people. They are the type of people I like to be around, but I also needed my own space. I rented a van from a friend of hours, Firestone, who owns the Boulder Adventure Lodge. My husband said, “Take the van. See what you think about it. When you come back, give me feedback.”
It was a no-brainer that it was a huge help. I had so much stuff to haul up there, Kirk. Also a safe place to keep things away from bears. I can’t just leave a cooler outside in the middle of the San Juan mountains at 11,500 feet. I think there’s a large possibility that might make it’s way into…
Kirk Bachmann: It’s a beautiful ride. One of Joseph Henry’s counselors with the scouts has one. It is the perfect vehicle to maneuver our mountains and get a lot of stuff from here to there.
Kelly Newlon: It was a game-changer. It was pretty undeniable. I think secretly Morgan was hoping I would come back and say, “Yes, we need to have one,” because he likes to build things like that.
Kirk Bachmann: It’s a good plug for the company. I love it.
Who’s that behind you there?
Kelly Newlon: Oh, that is our great Dane, Morrison. She’s taking a nap. Over in the corner, you cannot see, is Hank Williams.
Kirk Bachmann: The greatest dog name on the face of the earth. Hank Williams. I absolutely love it.
Kelly Newlon: Big dogs in the mountains are essential. Little dogs would get snatched up up here.
Kirk Bachmann: How do they do with the altitude?
Kelly Newlon: They’re fine. We moved here years ago from Virginia, and we had a great Dane at the time. I remember *gasps* struggling. We lived at 11 feet above sea level and our dog was running up Sanitas on Day One. They’re resilient. They’re cool.
Kirk Bachmann: They figure it out.
Kelly Newlon: Easy to figure it out.
Kirk Bachmann: So let’s dive in. We’re going to talk about a lot today, but let’s talk about your journey on becoming a chef. I noticed – and I’m going to have a little story here – I noticed a recent post on Insta about a pretty cool series on television about chefs, about cooking, about the industry, called “The Bear.” The school is abuzz. All of the students are watching it. I know that it’s resonated with you. I wanted to share real quick the reality of that series.
In the show, the chef is operating a little place in Chicago that he took over from his brother who passed. I think they call in the Original Beef Chicago, or something like that. But the reality is that it’s real, and the real name is Mr. Beefy. I ran a school literally a block around the corner. I’m just blown away when I’m watching the series. They mention Escoffier a couple of times, which was kind of cool. When they’re in the game room in the back having their meetings and stuff like that, that’s all legit. That is there. This is a very, very popular, smack-dab-in-the-heart-of-the-city place.
One of the comments that you made in Insta about the series was that the “professional kitchen” has always been home to you. Let’s get on that journey of how you became a chef, when you became a chef, why you became a chef, and why is that kitchen such a beautiful place for you.
Kelly Newlon: I love that. There’s so much with just that little bit that you said. I also grew up in Indiana, and Chicago was so close to us. We were in northwest Indiana. We grew up on Italian beef.
Kirk Bachmann: With all the condiments on top.
Kelly Newlon: I know how special that is to you. That’s really cool. I have already mentioned and gave my age away. I’m 52, so I was born in 1970. There was no Food Network. We did have PBS, and Chicagoland PBS was amazing because there was no shortage of food TV, especially on the weekends. I’m first-generation Ukrainian. We were doing chores at a young age.
Kirk Bachmann: There’s that.
Kelly Newlon: I would be dusting in the family room on a Saturday morning, and that’s when PBS would show Julia Child and Yan Can Cook and the Galloping Gourmet. That was my intro into it. I was just sort of obsessed with it, especially as a five-year-old. That was my intro into professional chefs. I just loved watching it. All three of them were so totally different.
Around five, I just started cooking different things. I remember making Hershey’s the cocoa, the little canister that was just dark brown and said “Hershey’s” across the top. They had a truffle recipe on the back. It was probably terrible, but I was infatuated with chocolate at the time. The first thing I remember making was that truffle recipe. Then promptly eating all of them. I remember so clearly: I must not have heated the milk up enough, because you add the granulated sugar to it and cocoa. It’s like milk, sugar, and cocoa. They were all grainy. I was like, “These are amazing.”
Again, because we lived close to Chicago, we would go to Water Tower Place. They had a Godiva store there. I remember my grandfather giving me five dollars. I’m one of three girls, and he gave each of us five bucks. “We’re rich. We can be so much chocolate.”
Kirk Bachmann: That’s a lot of chocolate in the ‘70s.
Kelly Newlon: I remember buying chocolate from Godiva, and that was the first time I had ever had real chocolate. I just dreamed about it. It was just fascinating. That was my intro. “I’m going to be a chef. That’s just what I’m going to do.”
Kirk Bachmann: Isn’t that a great story? Mr. Hershey, someone in the Hershey family is like, “There you go! Another degree of Hershey right there.”
Kelly Newlon: Right!
Kirk Bachmann: I love little memories like that of what gets you going. Did it blow you out of the water – you’ve got Hershey, you’ve got Godiva, then we go on and on from there. Was it an incredible difference to you with the quality?
Kelly Newlon: Oh, 100 percent.
Also, I think I should mention my mom is from Ukraine. There’s not a lot of chocolate and riches and gold in Ukraine. My mom loves chocolate. But she would buy us carob when we were kids. Once I had Godiva, I was like, “We’ve been getting ripped off all these years by eating carob!”
Kirk Bachmann: It made you appreciate it more, though.
Kelly Newlon: Totally. Yeah. My mom and I definitely share a love of chocolate.
Kirk Bachmann: You’re five. You’re doing your thing. I know exactly where you all there in northwest Indiana. You went to college first, right? Valparaiso?
Kelly Newlon: I grew up in Valpo, yeah, home of Orville Redenbacher. He’s real, for those who ask me. He’s a real guy. He was totally real.
Kirk Bachmann: Or did you go to Purdue after that?
Kelly Newlon: I went to Purdue. Then I left and came home and went to the CIA. Then I finished up Purdue online years later.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh, okay. Kind of the same path. The family made me go to college first and then culinary school followed. What were you interested in studying first when you went to Purdue?
Kelly Newlon: Gosh. I was still working in restaurants when I was there. Then in Valpo, that was the first restaurant I worked at. I was still a teenager. 17 or 18.
Kirk Bachmann: Putting yourself through school type of thing.
Kelly Newlon: I was like, “This is where I want to be.” I just went to this restaurant in town that I had heard was the best restaurant in Valparaiso, so that’s where I went. It was run by the executive chef and the head chef were both CIA grads. That’s how I learned about the CIA. We didn’t have the internet then. I didn’t know there were other culinary schools.
Kirk Bachmann: Word of mouth stuff.
Kelly Newlon: Again, I grew up in a family of three kids, first generation American, raised in a Ukrainian household. Like a lot of Eastern Europeans, there’s a lot of yelling. My house was just loud. The chaos of that, when I went into the kitchen, there was yelling. It didn’t phase me. It was totally comfortable for me.
Kirk Bachmann: Just like home.
Kelly Newlon: Just like home, but organized. I’ll circle back. Around the age of five, I ran my first race on a cinder track at the elementary school I went to in Michigan. I remember running. At that time, Kirk, you’ll remember. It was the 100-yard dash. I ran that race. “I’m going to be a runner.” Holy cow! It just blew my mind. That was kindergarten.
Kirk Bachmann: This all came together at the same time. I guess I didn’t know that. You’re working at this restaurant. You’ve got two CIA grads who are obviously chatting you up. You end up going to Hyde Park. How scary is that for this little gal from northwest Indiana.
Kelly Newlon: I was cooking lunch on the line and the phone rang. It was for me. I was horrified! Here I am, cooking lunch next to my boss, who is the owner of the restaurant, who is wonderful. He was really hard on me, but he should have been much harder. Seriously. I saw how he was with the guys I worked with; he should have been much harder on me.
The phone rang, and he looked at me and said, “It’s for you.” I thought, “Oh, God. I’m so horrified. I’m in the middle of a lunch rush and I get a phone call.” I was certain it was my parents or something. I answer the phone, and it’s the CIA. “We have one spot, and it’s next month.”
Kirk Bachmann: Wow!
Kelly Newlon: I was so excited. I said, “I’ll take it! I’ll call you later, I’m in the middle of lunch. Also, you should know that.”
Kirk Bachmann: Do I get a discount for that?
Kelly Newlon: Right? So I hung up the phone and I told my boss. He was so excited, he picked me up and spun me around. “What?! What?! You can’t leave in a month!” I knew this, because every restaurant, you need everybody. It meant that I would not be there for Thanksgiving, which was the largest day of the year for this particular restaurant, and also my favorite day to work because it was just mayhem.
So I went to school, and he actually flew me back to work Thanksgiving. He flew me back from school.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh my gosh. I just got a chill. Wow! Do you know what I love about the beginning of this story, Kelly? It’s why it’s so important, the love of this craft. You’re about to start your life, your career. Everything you’ve been waiting for, and you’re worried about Thanksgiving service. How do you teach someone that? How do I teach Joseph Henry how important that is. I absolutely love that.
Kelly Newlon: Yeah. It’s the loyalty that we have. I’m a very loyal person. When you’re in a restaurant, in that kitchen, you’re surrounded by other people with that same loyalty to each other, so it’s really a cool connection.
Kirk Bachmann: And that’s sort of connected to Bear. We’re giving everybody plugs today. The Hershey family, Godiva. The television station. But it’s true. When I talk to students here, obviously, it’s really about the culture. Please respect each other. Just respect each other. Everything else will fall into place. Just respect each other. And the craft.
CIA. I imagine Ferdinand Metz must have been running the show back then.
Kelly Newlon: He was, President Metz was. Tim Ryan was there. He had a seat, but he was not in that position yet. At the time – do you know, John Percarpio and I actually graduated in the same class. We were in sister groups.
Kirk Bachmann: No!
Kelly Newlon: Yeah.
Kirk Bachmann: What are the chances!? And I don’t know that you knew that Chef Bob and I went to culinary school together as well, in the northwest. What are the chances that we all end up together?
Kelly Newlon: That’s amazing. I’m going to put a pin in that. Bob and I have a memory, a dinner of the decade years after I graduated from culinary. Bob – and I did not know it – but he was working for Charlie Trotter and I was there making dessert.
Kirk Bachmann: At the same time?! Are you kidding me?! Really!
So pull Julia into this whole thing. I had the great pleasure of meeting her. She was up in age. I’d say she was maybe in her late 80s when I met her. She was absolutely eloquent. Just lovely. So tell me about the birthday cakes. How did that happen?
Kelly Newlon: I do the Culinary Institute, graduate, blah, blah, blah. Moved to Virginia. I started working at the coolest restaurant in Virginia at the time was a restaurant called The Trellis, which was owned by Marcel Desaulniers, author of “Death by Chocolate.” I had had a solid pastry background through the culinary program I went through at the CIA, but by no means was I equipped. I could have been a pastry cook. That’s what I got hired on as. They said, “The job starts at two in the morning. Can you do that?” “Sure!”
I had no idea. That will rock your world. Nothing can prepare you for that. Those weren’t eight hour days. You’re done when you’re done, as you know. I ended up for ten years working the graveyard shift. I took a job, started as a pastry cook, that team. It was very high-stress. That restaurant would do 350-400 for lunch, and the same for dinner. Lunch and dinner both sold desserts. There were just mass amounts of volume. We had bread service. It was the hardest job I’ve ever had, and by all means catapulted my career.
Within a year and a half or two years, I was assistant pastry chef. About three or four months, I was assistant pastry chef. I only sat in that spot for a few months because our pastry chef moved and I was promoted to his position. Which was amazing, but also way too big a job for me at that time.
Kirk Bachmann: It all sort of makes sense to me know. I did not realize you were at Trellis for ten years?! For a decade?!
Kelly Newlon: A decade.
Kirk Bachmann: Which is a lifetime in our industry. Now it all sort of makes sense. I can remember times when Bob and I were trying to make sense of our schedule here, and we were missing a pastry instructor, and Bob was like, “Well, Kelly will do it.” But I said, “But Kelly is a cuisine instructor?” He was like, “Kelly will do it.” Now it all makes sense! How funny!
Kelly Newlon: Which is a great point. If you can be a switch-hitter, you’re more valuable. That was one of the smartest decisions. I would say that is probably the smartest decision I made in my culinary career other than saying yes to going to school. A lot of people don’t need school, but I needed it.
Kirk Bachmann: For different reasons. Well said.
Kelly Newlon: It was exactly what I needed.
I got promoted to pastry chef. That restaurant was exceptional in so many ways. This would have been mid-90s, probably ‘94, ‘95. Do you remember those shows on PBS and TLC, Kirk, “Great Chefs of the East” and they had that little jingle.
Kirk Bachmann: They had little books. Yeah.
Kelly Newlon: The Trellis was on Great Chefs of the East several times. Then Marcel wrote “Death by Chocolate” and around eight other books. As a pastry chef, you tested those recipes with him for the book. I was heavily involved in half a dozen cookbooks he wrote and co-wrote the recipes. He would travel all over the country, coast-to-coast, for book tours. I would go with him and make countless, tens of thousands of cakes and small cookies to bring to book signings. Was on the Today Show. Was on so many different radio shows. I did an episode of Cooking with Julia, if you remember that series.
Kirk Bachmann: Wow!
Kelly Newlon: In her home! It was taped in her home.
Kirk Bachmann: In Connecticut.
Kelly Newlon: Yes. Just mind-blowing things that a kid from Indian should not…Unbelievable. But the job was so hard in every way, mentally, emotionally, physically. I’m so grateful for it.
That is what put me in the position to make cakes for Julia. Her 80th birthday I believe it was – 85th – was at the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C. Marcel was like, “We’re going to D.C. It’s for Julia’s birthday.” It was an IACP event. Which is always so cool.
I was thrown into the IACP – the International Association of Culinary Professionals, for those of you who aren’t familiar with that.
Kirk Bachmann: Great organization.
Kelly Newlon: I was kind of thrust into that over the ACF because of the people I was working for. That was very prominent, so that organically was the organization that I work with the most.
Kirk Bachmann: And Julia was connected with them. Big, big force.
Kelly Newlon: Marcel and Julia had a great friendship and did many things together, so I was literally at the right place at the right time. Cut my teeth at that restaurant.
We go to the Willard. It’s her 85th birthday. I’m in the back. I have this cake ready, and I’m having a nervous breakdown because this is a very big deal. I get up. “I’m going to run to the restroom before I bring this cake out in a half hour.” I get up, and I go down there. All of a sudden, I see Julia in the hallway. It sort of takes your breath away.
Then a few minutes later, she gets back in the dining room and I bring the cake out. She had literally fallen asleep at the table. It was late! It was 10 o’clock at night. She was 85!
Kirk Bachmann: Dessert course.
Kelly Newlon: That was the first one.
Kirk Bachmann: What did you make for the first one? What kind of cake? Do you remember?
Kelly Newlon: It was an almond cake with shaved chocolate in it. She really liked chocolate, almonds, espresso, and raspberries. That one was a little bit of a combo of that.
The next one was incredibly special. Marcel was on vacation in France or something. He said, “Hey, there’s this really big thing that’s going to happen. I’m out of town, and I would love for you to handle it. You need to bring someone else from your pastry team.” So my friend, Amanda, came along with me, who is our assistant pastry chef. We drove to Washington D.C. for the literal opening of Julia’s exhibit at the Smithsonian. That was also when they celebrated her birthday. I believe it was about six months before she passed, Kirk, so was that her 92 birthday?
Kirk Bachmann: That’s right around the time. Wow.
Kelly Newlon: Wow. We were literally at the Smithsonian Institute. Everybody is there, if you can imagine. Magazines, every magazine imaginable. “Food Art,” “Food and Wine,” and “Gourmet,” and I think “Sabor” had just come out at that time. It was unparalleled. Nothing can touch that.
There’s all these tables set out for the evening. There was a dinner and whatnot. Everyone who was there that was invited chef-wise to serve had tables and stations set up. We did that. Towards the end of the night, I walked out in the middle of this ballroom floor to present her with this cake. I am super clumsy as it is. But the floor was a perfectly flat ballroom floor. But Kirk, I was so afraid I was going to fall. I did not. She was just sitting there with her family.
Kirk Bachmann: Super gracious, I imagine.
Kelly Newlon: She was so lovely. That was a dark chocolate with espresso buttercream, and it was covered in white chocolate buttercream, and we had been hand-shaving white chocolate curls off of one of those 11-pound blocks that you got. You’re shaving the curls.
Kirk Bachmann: Old school!
Kelly Newlon: This is a really funny story. I thought, “Thank God, she’s got it. I’m off the hook.” Then everybody eats the cake. The next morning, it’s six in the morning and the phone rings in my hotel room. “Hello?” I’m exhausted. I can hardly speak. And it’s Julia’s assistant.
She said, “Hey, we just wanted to take the rest of that cake home. Julia said it was the best chocolate cake she’s ever had.” I was like…
Kirk Bachmann: Wow!
Kelly Newlon: I don’t have the cake! I know, that was so wonderful to hear, but it was totally overshadowed by the fact that the rest of the cake went into the kitchen that night somewhere in the Smithsonian and the staff ate it.
Kirk Bachmann: Devoured it. Well, of course they did!
Kelly Newlon: So I went back to Virginia, to Williamsburg that day. Amanda and I feverishly baked a whole other cake and FedEx-ed it overnight to Julia.
Kirk Bachmann: Wow! Wow. I mean, that is an amazing story. Really amazing story. So absolutely gracious.
Let me fast forward a little bit. I’d love to connect. You’re out in Colorado now. We’re going to talk about your love of running and the love of running in general. In full transparency, I need to run more, but I live vicariously through your posts. I’m good. I will never run 100 miles. I barely drive 100 miles. I think you know that I went to the University of Oregon, so even though I shamefully don’t keep up with the running like you do and Bobby Stuckey and others that shame me on social media, I have such a respect for the craft. I think I was first introduced to running through the immortal Steve Prefontaine. Beautiful, beautiful story. I was at school during that time.
On a personal side, I think you also know that almost 40 years ago I had a kidney transplant. Little known fact is that it was running, at the time. I was very young, a young person who is just getting their life started halfway through college. “You’re going to have to have a kidney transplant.” I went back home to Colorado, the Gunnison, Crested Butte area. I went up to Western State College is what it was called back then. And I ran, and I ran, and I ran. I ran for a good three to six months every single day before the transplant, thinking, “That’s what I need to do.” I needed to have the energy. I was skin and bones. Because of that, the kidney transplant was incredibly successful. It was easy, but I was in great shape. I was young. Running will always hold that special place in my heart because it got me through a period of time where I could have felt sorry for myself, I guess. My mother wouldn’t allow that. But running got me. I don’t know to this day if I was running to or from. I really don’t know. But I question that quite a bit.
When I see the impact that you have on other runners because you’re supporting them – you’re providing the nutrition – I’d love for you to summarize where your love of running came from, but it is so much deeper than [what you’ve already shared]. This is not just you throwing on the sneakers and heading out. You’re helping others impact the environment, change their lives. If you can, talk a little bit about your love of running, why you do it, where that inspiration came from, what keeps you going.
Kelly Newlon: Right. First I’ll say, so many people who do not run often say to runners, “You’re running away from things.”
Kirk Bachmann: Right.
Kelly Newlon: I will absolutely say the first person to say, “I am running through it.” That is how I ran through –
Kirk Bachmann: Even better.
Kelly Newlon: – so many difficult points in my life. It was not running away in it, because when I’m running, I’m in this safe place that allows me to think and work through and unpack things that might be really difficult going on it life and work through it. Running has been, for me, that has provided that therapeutic space. If it were not for that, I don’t know. It just allowed me to be in the right head space and work through it.
Kirk Bachmann: That’s a TikTok real right there in itself. I love that. Running through it.
Kelly Newlon: So many big decisions, I’ll think, “Oh gosh. This is really hard. What’s going on?” I’d go out for a run, and at the end of that run, I think, “Okay. Now I am ready to make the move to do what I need to do.”
Kirk Bachmann: It’s all connected. Running takes on many different forms. With you, I don’t know if the word is ultra-running, trail running, outdoor running. It’s very unique. It’s incredibly impressive. It’s the names that you don’t always see in the headlines. Running in the dark.
Kelly Newlon: I always gravitate more toward sports that are in the dirt: trail running, mountain biking, climbing. We definitely feed a handful of road runners, road, track, marathon, that sort of thing. But the bulk of our business have always been sports that are on the trail or the wall of the mountain, whether it’s bike or running. I think that’s pretty normal human nature. That’s where my heart is, so that’s the community that I gravitate towards. Because I have a connection with that community, they trust me to feed them.
The bulk of the community we work with are 50-100 miles. There are some crazy 200-mile going on right now. Out here, you could run five miles, and if you’re running straight up a hill, up a mountain, it’s not about the per-mile time. Because a 5k on a road at sea level is much different than a 5k.
Kirk Bachmann: Straight uphill.
Kelly Newlon: Absolutely. That’s the community we serve is more of the ultra-trail community. Morgan, my husband, is a cyclist. We work with mountain biking, gravel riders, cycle-cross and that sort of thing as well. That’s the community.
Because we understand them, over the years we’ve just become that much more trusted and a part of the community. It always feels to me, Kirk that it’s a selfish job that I have because I basically created a company where I could just feed my friends all day long.
Kirk Bachmann: You could be yourself. You understand the language. You understand what these high-performance, endurance athletes need. What does it mean, Kelly, to be vetted by the community? I think I’ve read that a couple of times.
Kelly Newlon: Oh gosh.
Kirk Bachmann: Trusted? Accepted?
Kelly Newlon: I think so. Again, so much of that is because we were part of the community, the outdoor endurance community before RAD. If you put those things together, it makes sense. We work with a lot of athletes individually. Because of that, the brands that they’re sponsored by trust us, which is a good full circle.
Kirk Bachmann: Trust and respect.
Kelly Newlon: Trust and respect.
Kirk Bachmann: So important. Let’s talk about RAD. I don’t know how you get a more rad name for a company than RAD. I remember when you first came up with it and you brought the t-shirts to the school. I wasn’t worthy, but I wore it. Here’s what it says on your LinkedIn. It blows my mind. I won’t read all of it. “RAD is fearless, independent, and original. In a nutshell, we are a catering company that focuses on feeding ultra endurance athletes and the outdoor industry alike.” But going back to that very first sentence: “RAD is fearless, independent, and original.” Can I substitute the word RAD [with] Kelly?
Kelly Newlon: I guess so. I don’t always feel those things. Every day is a little different. I find that I am – with the things I take on, and you’re probably the same way – just on the edge of being uncomfortable enough to still be learning, but I’m not super comfortable. “Is this more than I can pull off?” That doesn’t make me feel fearless in the moment, but afterwards, I think, “I knew I could do it. I knew it was going to be really hard and that I would grow because of it.” That makes you feel fearless.
Kirk Bachmann: It pushes you. It’s just like seeing Julia in the hallway and you have to walk in with this chocolate cake and present it to arguably the greatest name in food, in our country anyway.
Let’s talk a little bit about RAD – Real Athlete Diets. Brilliant. Period. I don’t even know how you write a business plan for this, but what better way to blend your love of sport with your love of cooking, and helping others along the way. When was your a-ha moment that, “Alright, this is what I’m going to do. We’re going to do this”? Were you doing it already on the side? Were people asking advice and that sort of thing? Was it Morgan’s idea?
Kelly Newlon: It was not Morgan’s idea. I did come up with the name because of Morgan.
I was actually driving home from school from teaching one day. I was about five minutes from home, and my phone rang. It was a friend of mine who was training for an Iron Man. I had just on the side been doing a little contract work feeding friends who were athletes here and there. He asked me, “I’m training for this Iron Man. Can you cook some meals for me every week for the next eight to ten weeks?”
Kirk Bachmann: Take care of me. For this I will pay you!
Kelly Newlon: Yes. You will pay me. But I actually said, “No”. At the time, “no” was not a word I said often. I say it much more frequently now. I said, “I can’t. I’m maxed out.” I was teaching at Escoffier full-time. I was also doing 30-plus hours of contract work with an organization in Boulder that worked with youth in recovery from drug addiction.
Kirk Bachmann: I remember that.
Kelly Newlon: Which was so amazing. Loved that work. It was extremely difficult on a lot of levels. I’m really fortunate to have had that. I was basically doing two full-time jobs. So I said, “I can’t; I’m maxed out.”
I hung up the phone with him. I said the words out loud. “Why am I not doing that? That’s what I should be doing. I should be feeding athletes in Boulder.” Again, I was only five minutes from home, so in my head I thought, “Surely someone else is doing this. This is Boulder, food mecca and athletes. No one is. There’s no one doing this. Why is no one doing this?”
I know the answer to that now, but at the time I didn’t. It’s hard. It’s really hard.
Kirk Bachmann: Of course.
Kelly Newlon: It takes a unique sort of ding-dong to fill that spot. But I got home and I walked in the door and I said, “Morgan, I’m going to start a business. I’m going to feed athletes.” Again, Morgan’s a mountain biker/cyclist in general. He was always saying the word, “Rad.” I needed a hook because I wanted him to be my business partner because I don’t like numbers and paperwork. He’s really good at that stuff.
I said, “The name of the business is going to be called RAD – Real Athlete Diet.” I just made it up when I was standing there.
He was like, “Oh. Okay.” That’s how it started. Then he drew the logo on a napkin and gave it to a friend of ours.
Kirk Bachmann: Serendipitous. Perfect. Simple.
How similar is that original vision to create RAD – that day, that moment – compared to today?
Kelly Newlon: That’s such a great question. I think about that every once in a while. “Is this where I wanted to be?” I would say it’s 95 percent where I wanted it to be, with the exception of one thing that I never enjoyed doing. We don’t do things we don’t like to do, right? That’s individual meals.
We don’t do individual meals, and we haven’t for about five years. One, there’s more work. It ends up costing you money. There’s no money in it. I can only reach one person at a time. It really was putting a wrench in the way of all the other things that I could fill the calendar with that would reach more people, be more impactful, and things that brought me joy. When we moved up high from East Boulder, I thought, “I want to remove this from the business model.” So we did, and it’s been great. Every once in a while I do when someone is like, “Oh my gosh, this just happened. Can you help me with…whatever?” If it makes sense, I’ll help them out, but for the most part, it is exactly what I wanted it to be.
Kirk Bachmann: Which is the perfect North Star. It’s okay to pivot here and there. The pandemic was what it was or is what it is. I love that intentionality.
I was going to ask only because you’re very familiar with our commitment with farm to table, taking students out to the farm, meeting farmers, engaging with the Eric Skokans of the community. Is there anything you can say about the importance of local sourcing for the work that you’re doing specifically?
Kelly Newlon: I think it’s so important. If it’s important to you, make it an important part of your business. It is what I think is important. A couple weeks ago I went to a commissary that we used to use a few years ago. I met with the owner of a company called Project Umami. He makes tempeh. It’s soy-free, which is important for a lot of people. That’s a clutch move. But all the product that he uses is grown here in Boulder County. Chickpeas grown in Niwot.
Kirk Bachmann: Who knew? Right?
Kelly Newlon: Exactly. Who knew? Also, so many people are like, “What? Tempeh can be made without soy?” He’s got tempeh from black beans and millet or white beans and quinoa, chickpeas and green split peas. It’s fabulous, and it’s right here in Boulder. I walked in and they were making that. I used that to bring to the camp that I fed in Silverton in July.
One of the cool conversations that we had when we were in Silverton was, “Hey, next year, let’s see if we can implement…” there were three or four Lakota Indians at the camp I was at. They were like, “We would love to bring buffalo or elk.” I was like, “Let’s find a farmer or rancher close by within 50 miles of where we are and let’s make that happen for next year.” So we’re going to go and do that.
I think it’s important, so I make sure it’s a part of RAD. Does it have to be organic? My immediate answer to that is no. As you know, there are so many small farms that operate organically but do not have the funds to become certified organic. I pay attention to that. We’re so spoiled out here. We’re so lucky to have what we have. It feels like a miss to not utilize it and to not support those people.
Kirk Bachmann: And it keeps getting better, too. I know that even in my role, I’ve tried to be a little bit more intentional about outreach. Through a connection from a connection from a connection, I had the good pleasure of chatting with Jake Plummer a few weeks ago. Then all of a sudden you’re talking about umboand MycoLove and FarmBox. All these unique bio-diversity opportunities for our students to get out there. Honestly, I didn’t think about them until a few years ago. I absolutely like this mushroom, mycelium network that we’re creating just slightly below the surface.
I have to ask because, again, I saw a really cool picture. I was drawn by the grilled cheese. It was just a grilled cheese sandwich. You were reminiscing about the first time you had a vegan grilled cheese at 16, but what caught my eye was you were at Alpine Valley. It all makes sense because you’re at northwest Indiana. I’ve been there. You saw the Dead. I saw Dave Matthews with Gretchen at Alpine. It’s a great place. It’s still there. I was going to ask about the plant-based, pulling that into your business. Do 50 percent of the athletes focus that direction, or is that changing.
Kelly Newlon: The athletes we work with, yes. I’ll tell you, it was really easy to see pretty immediately years ago when we started RAD. If we were doing an event somewhere at a running store or a climbing gym, everyone that comes, especially in the front range, are fill-in-the-blank, if this community is there, this is what is needed. People would be like, “Oh, I can’t eat any of that. I’m sure you don’t have anything that’s gluten-free or dairy-free.”
I would be like, “Actually, it’s all gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free. Half of it’s vegan.” I never want to hear anyone say, “I can’t eat what you have because of my restrictions.” Now we do everything for an event gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free. Gluten-free because there are so many people whether they’re celiac or they have an intolerance. Dairy-free because that is quickly becoming very popular, whether someone is vegan or they have a lactose issue. Or they think they have a lactose issue. Nut-free, a lot of our events are remote. There isn’t a hospital close by, and I don’t want anyone to have to pull out an Epipen. That freaks me out, Kirk.
Kirk Bachmann: That’s real. I love that thoughtfulness.
Kelly Newlon: Then we often will have half of what is here is vegan, it just naturally happens to be. Potato salad is vegan if I use vegan mayonnaise or if I don’t use mayonnaise at all, like if I use olive oil, lemon, and parsley. Then the other half of the groups that we work with are eating elk and buffalo. They’re excited about the cool things we have in the front range to offer. Farmers to work with, which is great.
I try to do a little bit of both, and not necessarily to replace animal protein for anyone, but offered as an option to 1) for the people that are vegan, and 2) to just help introduce another product to someone who might have, on another day, not gone for that. David Chang, he grew up eating chicken feet. He’s now working with this really cool brand called Meati. Have you seen them?
Kirk Bachmann: Yeah. Yeah.
Kelly Newlon: M-E-A-T-I.
Kirk Bachmann: I just read his new book.
Kelly Newlon: Oh yeah? He’s so cool. And he says, “We’re not trying to replace meat, but we are trying to add a different option into our family so our kids can have this A, B, and C.” I like that. That feels good, and it also is really asked for as a requirement in the community that we feed.
Kirk Bachmann: I love that. I want to make sure we get the plug. RADBoulder.com. You’re Instagram is simply @radboulder.
Kelly Newlon: @radboulder. Somehow, no one had that. I don’t know.
Kirk Bachmann: Really?!
Kelly Newlon: I know. It’s crazy.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it. I’m not going to let you go until, you know, the name of the podcast is The Ultimate Dish. Here comes the pressure, Chef. What is the ultimate dish? This is going to be good. I can’t wait.
Kelly Newlon: It’s such a hard question.
Kirk Bachmann: It is! It is. Because there’s so much.
Kelly Newlon: Honestly, there is, and so much of me [wonders] is it like your last meal? Is that the dish that you think of? To me, honestly, whatever is on the plate, what’s more important is sharing whatever is on that plate or in that big bowl with someone who is really special to me. It’s not about the food, per se. It’s about what I’m sharing with the company I’m with.
Kirk Bachmann: How come I knew you were going to say that?
Kelly Newlon: It sounds like a scapegoat, right?
Kirk Bachmann: No. No! It’s a perfect response. Curtis Duffy was on the show, Michelin Star restaurant. You think he’s going to say something molecular, and he said the exact same thing.
Kelly Newlon: Did he? I didn’t hear that one.
Kirk Bachmann: It’s the experience of sitting with my family. He got emotional. It’s a memory. A lot of people talk about their first experience with Grandma’s potpie or something. That’s what I love. People are being honest and transparent about what the ultimate dish is, so it’s absolutely perfect.
And so are you. And thank you, Kelly. Thank you so much for sharing a few moments with us. Best of continued luck with the amazing company. I’m going to start making t-shirts for The Ultimate Dish, although the acronym becomes TUD, and I don’t know. Don’t know how popular that’s going to be, but I’m going to give it a shot. It’s not RAD, but I’m going to do my best.
Kelly Newlon: Thank you for having me. Any time I can chat with you is a gift. That’s good.
Kirk Bachmann: I appreciate that. Gretchen says hello. Keep on smiling, okay?
Kelly Newlon: Alright. Please send her my best.
Kirk Bachmann: I will.
And thank you for listening to the Ultimate Dish podcast, brought to you by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit escoffier.edu/podcast, where you’ll find any materials mentioned during the podcast, including notes, links and other resources. You can also browse other episodes and subscribe.