Local restaurateur Edmund Woo talks about his Paleo diet program and how it came to be
By Kathleen Maris
Photos by Greenville Headshots
You may know Edmund Woo as the owner of Saskatoon Lodge, among several other restaurant businesses over the years. But in addition to running the recently relocated and rebranded Saskatoon, Woo maintains a thriving Paleo diet service through Saskatoon that serves thousands of locals. If you had asked him eight years ago if he could pull off this venture, you might not have heard an “of course!”
“It was a lot of work because I didn’t have the staff for it,” Woo says. “In the beginning, it was me, my wife, and one of the chefs. We would be here physically working from eight or nine in the morning Saturday morning till one or two on Sunday morning. We would be back on Sunday morning at about nine and we would work straight through to about five a.m. And every week we would look at each other and say, ‘Maybe we should stop. Maybe we should wrap this up.’
“And I’m glad we didn’t, because otherwise we wouldn’t be here talking today.”
Woo, who along with his wife, Renee, has owned Saskatoon for nearly 25 years and has been in the restaurant business for almost 40 years, had his first foray in the Paleo diet field in 2010 while working out at a local Crossfit gym. His partner wanted a good, healthful source of meals for his clients and knew that with his cooking prowess, Woo could be that source.
Despite the initial reluctance and hardships, Woo began to really believe in the benefits of the diet and wanted to expose other people to it.
It wasn’t until the end of the second year that his program began to pick up steam. From his experience going from gym to gym, it became clear to Woo that there were very few people who worked out and dieted. So, he instead began to market to people who were focused on eating right—particularly, people who wanted to lose weight.
“The Paleo diet tells you what to eat if you want to eat well,” he said. “The Paleo diet is not necessarily a weight-loss diet, but it becomes a weight loss diet, because if you eat well, your body naturally doesn’t want to hold on to the excess fat. And if you take out a lot of the things that the Paleo diet tells you [that] you shouldn’t eat, your body actually sheds that weight.”
The Paleo diet, short for Paleolithic diet, is restricted to the natural hunter-gatherer diet of its namesake time period: meats, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. The idea is that these foods have always been more easily processed than the foods that humans eat now, such as dairy, starches, and refined sugars.
The five-week program offers five breakfasts, five lunches, and five dinners; 10 snacks; five desserts; and four shakes, two for breakfast and two for lunch, totaling 19 meals a week for five weeks, for $712 (tax included). That’s about $142 a week and less than $7.50 a meal. Adding in the time gained from not having to shop for groceries and prepare meals, many see it as an excellent value.
While some versions of the Paleo diet, such as the Whole 30, are very strict and completely cut out other foods, other versions of the diet occasionally add a few non-Paleo foods in small amounts. Woo and his team will sometimes add cheese or grains to a meal because, while they understand the importance of sticking to a healthier diet, it can be overwhelming to completely cut out certain foods—something that Woo cites as a reason it’s difficult for people to stick to diet- or exercise-related resolutions, and why he cut out the required workouts that were originally part of his program.
Each week, the Paleo team at Saskatoon has a meeting to decide what will be on the next week’s menu, so dieters aren’t eating the same thing over and over. Some of the items are inspired by the cookbooks Woo has, others are meals they’ve done before, while still others are non-Paleo dishes made Paleo-compliant—for example, a chicken curry dish, inspired by the curry Woo helped his daughter make for a class project.
Woo’s focus and attention has resulted in the program’s growth—so much so, in fact, that there wasn’t enough room in the kitchen at Saskatoon’s Haywood Road location. In order to keep up with the demand, not only for the program but for the restaurant itself, Woo began searching for a new home. This ultimately led Saskatoon to a move to a bigger location just over a year ago. The Halton Road Saskatoon has two kitchen lines, plenty of dine-in seating, and a large event room.
Eight years ago, Woo might not have been completely confident about his Paleo program. Now, he has no regrets about the time and effort put into it.
“The Paleo business was something that I was very passionate about,” Woo says. “[The program] allowed me to articulate that passion into a business. It allowed us to do something else with our business that helped people besides just providing great experiences at the restaurant. This was something that invigorated us and gave us a new lease on life.”